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NIDDK Thanks Pimas with Fun, Food, Information

By Jane DeMouy

How cold was the water? "The water was VERY cold," Mike Milner laughs. The physician assistant at NIDDK's Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch is talking about the most popular game at a recent Pima Appreciation Day: "Dunk A Doc."

"We'd had a cold spell here a couple days before," Milner explains. The cold snap in normally warm Sacaton, Ariz., was enough to chill the tank of water where Milner and other NIDDK staff were unceremoniously dumped when Pima study volunteers hit a prominent target over the victims with a well-placed tennis ball. "It was a big hit with the kids," adds Milner, who was first into the drink, thanks to a hard, fast one thrown by Pima Governor Donald Antone. "We had to quit when the nurses stepped up," the dunkee added. Researchers Antonio Tataranni and Christian Weyer also got soaked.

More than 250 NIH study volunteers attended the recent combination carnival and science fair. It was designed to thank the generations of Pimas who have made possible 35 years of NIDDK research on diabetes and its complications, as well as to explain the important advances in understanding this complex disease that have occurred because of their generosity. The Pima Indians have the highest rate of diabetes in the world: over 50 percent of those over 35 have the disease. Many of the Pimas have participated in multiple studies.

Pima Appreciation Day was a good time for special people.

The day began early. A host of volunteers, some in wheelchairs, entered a 7 a.m. 5K race. Twelve-year-old Cody Whitman crossed the finish line first, completing the 3.1 mile race in 22 minutes and 34 seconds. Fifteen-year-old Timothy Billy was second. The "Turtle" award, suggested by researcher and run organizer Inge Harper, went to elder Norma Paul.

Dr. Clifton Bogardus, who recently succeeded Dr. Peter Bennett as chief of the Phoenix research branch, thanked the Pima volunteers for their unselfishness and commitment to helping others. "Your sacrifices are recognized and appreciated by people around the world. We are indebted to you and we honor your people today," he said, presenting a plaque to Gov. Antone. The American Diabetes Association also presented the community with an award for their volunteerism.

Kids' faces were painted and visiting clowns sculpted balloons, thanks to the Gila River Community Youth Council, who helped with decorations and activities. The Southern Scratch Band added Top 40 and country rhythms to the party, and community members led a traditional friendship dance. A buffet of grilled chicken, veggies and carrot cake made a festive lunch.

Every generation joined in NIDDK's recent Pima Appreciation Day for volunteers from the Gila River Indian Community.

Pima artist Carlos Moyah designed poster art for the event: a contemporary view of Pima dancers creating one of the basket designs that are part of Pima heritage.

Among the scientific exhibits was a presentation by Dr. Michael Prochazka explaining how genetics research is done and why it takes time. "It's like trying to find one kind of small typo in a whole library of books," he said. Dr. Arline Salbe talked about the results of a study in children that found a relationship between TV viewing and obesity: the more TV children watched at age 5, the more weight they gained at age 10.

Much of the basis for defining and understanding type 2 diabetes has come from the Pima-NIDDK collaboration. Among other significant findings, researchers determined that obesity and high levels of insulin in the blood resulting from insulin resistance are risk factors for type 2 diabetes and that diabetes and obesity develop from genetic, prenatal and environmental influences. They showed that babies born to Pima women with diabetes have higher risk for obesity and diabetes because they are exposed to their mother's high blood sugar in the womb. More recently, researcher Dr. David Pettitt has shown that breast-feeding exclusively for the first 2 months of life significantly lowered the rate of type 2 diabetes among Pimas. Bogardus told the crowd that NIDDK is committed to improving clinical outcomes for patients, and to bringing better health to the Pima community, however long it takes.

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