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NIH Record

Hildebrandts Unveil Diabetes Dragon

By Sharon Ricks

Hollywood came to NIH recently with the Stone House unveiling of a painting of a golden dragon that seems to have been hurled into outer space. "Taming the Dragon of Diabetes" was created by twin fantasy artists Greg and Tim Hildebrandt for the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). The brothers did the original poster for Star Wars, the J.R.R. Tolkien Hobbit Calendar, and comics, posters, and trading cards of Spiderman, the X-Men, and Captain America for Marvel Comics.

Twin artists Greg (l) and Tim Hildebrandt discuss their "diabetes dragon" at Stone House.

Creating a painting for the DPP was personal. "My daughter Mary came down with diabetes when she was 9 and over the last 8 years or so has had retinopathy pretty bad," said Greg Hildebrandt. "She's an artist, so it's really devastating, yet her spirit is incredible. She's active, positive and energetic, but the retinopathy is traumatizing." Now 33, Mary may soon need kidney dialysis or a transplant. Her uncle, Tim Hildebrandt, was diagnosed with diabetes at age 27. The Hildebrandts say the painting illustrates the monstrous devastation that afflicts people touched by the disease.

For Bob Huber, the fight against the dragon began on Valentine's Day 1997, when he became one of 2,100 people to join the DPP. Since then, he's lost 30 pounds, his cholesterol level has dropped, he's started an exercise routine, and he's genuinely missing pizza with everything on it.

The Hildebrandts unveil their poster, "Taming the Dragon of Diabetes."

Between bites of salmon mousse and fruit at the unveiling, Huber, who is participating in the lifestyle modification protocol, explained his success simply: "It's education and willpower.

"Ordinarily, I would be trying to eat that whole block of cheese," he added, pointing to a mound of cheddar wrapped in nuts, "but now I think in terms of calories and fat." He hasn't had a hamburger, french fries or a piled-up pizza since he started, and he can beep an investigator if he's tempted to overeat.

The DPP seeks 4,000 volunteers with impaired glucose tolerance in 26 centers across the country. Half of the participants will be minorities who have a high risk of diabetes. Investigators are trying to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in these individuals through lifestyle or pharmacologic interventions. According to Dr. David Nathan, DPP chairman, 35 to 40 percent of people with blood sugar levels above normal, but not yet diabetic, will develop diabetes within the next 5 years if not treated. He hopes the painting will further energize recruitment efforts.

The dragon flew to Los Angeles during Oscar week. It was auctioned off at the end of April, and proceeds went to diabetes research. Michael Jackson and Robin Williams are among collectors of the Hildebrandts' work.

In the meantime, Huber is learning to cook a light chocolate cheesecake, has a free pair of sneakers from Nike, one of DPP's corporate sponsors, and is the new owner of a reproduction poster of "Taming the Dragon of Diabetes."

Shirley Smith, another DPP participant, said, "I am determined not to become a diabetic." Diabetes has affected her grandmother, mother, aunts and uncles. She and a friend had planned to join the DPP on the same day, but her friend found out that she had diabetes that morning. "I don't know whether she was fortunate or unfortunate," Smith said.

The DPP is sponsored by NIDDK, NICHD, NIA, the Office of Research on Minority Health, the Office of Research on Women's Health, the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research, the Indian Health Service, CDC, the American Diabetes Association and many corporations.

Local volunteers interested in the DPP should call the Medlantic Clinical Research Center at (202) 675-2082. Individuals from other regions may call 1-888-DPP-JOIN.

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