Diabetes Forecast

One Couple Works to Improve Diabetes Care Through ADA's Research Foundation

By Suzi Van Sickle ,

It was research that brought Orville Kolterman, MD, and Gayle Lorenzi, RN, CDE, together: They met while working on a landmark diabetes study and married in 1988. And it remains a passion for the California couple today, through their contributions to the American Diabetes Association's Research Foundation.

Kolterman was principal investigator at the University of California–San Diego (UCSD) on the 1983–1993 Diabetes Control and Complications Trial, a key study of glucose control and microvascular complications, and Lorenzi was the UCSD study coordinator. Today, both still work on diabetes: Kolterman is senior vice president of research and development at Amylin Pharmaceuticals, and Lorenzi, a diabetes educator, is community health project manager at UCSD.

Off the job, one way they support better diabetes care and the search for a cure is through the Research Foundation. Since its inception in 1994, the foundation has contributed more than $80 million to ADA's research program. One hundred percent of contributions made to the foundation directly support research. Beyond his and his wife's donations, Kolterman has served on the foundation's board of directors for the past two years; he is also a former president of ADA's California chapter.

Kolterman knows firsthand how a research grant can jump-start a career and influence future advances in diabetes care: He received one from ADA in 1978. Ultimately, his work took him to Amylin, where he has been for 17 years and has helped develop two medications central to the care of many people with type 2 diabetes, Symlin and Byetta. He says his work at Amylin and for the Research Foundation is rewarding because a contribution to diabetes research is "something that is literally touching millions of lives around the world."

Lorenzi's choice to work and volunteer in the diabetes world had less to do with science and more to do with people. "I had a connection to diabetes, because my brother has type 1, and I wanted to make diabetics' way of life easier," she says. Since her brother's diagnosis in 1976 at the age of 21, Lorenzi has focused on patient education and on helping young people manage the disease. At UCSD, she is a coordinator of the Epidemiology of Diabetes Interventions and Complications Study (EDIC), the follow-up to the DCCT. (Kolterman continues as principal investigator.) She also serves as the volunteer co-director of ADA Diabetes Camp Wana Kura in San Diego.

"It is wonderful to work with someone who always puts the interests of the children first," says Linda Bennett, Lorenzi's co-director at the camp. "She follows through on all [that's] involved in making camp happen for so many young people with diabetes." For her work in diabetes education, particularly in producing published materials used by both physicians and patients, Lorenzi was named Educator of the Year in 2001 by the American Association of Diabetes Educators.

With diabetes on the rise—at the current rate, 1 in 3 children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes at some point—Kolterman and Lorenzi believe that research is a high priority. As one of the nation's largest sources of funding for diabetes research, ADA's program supports some of the most promising studies and scientists in the field of diabetes care, Kolterman says. In 2009, ADA's research program spent some $33.5 million in supporting about 115 new projects. The Research Foundation financed many postdoctoral studies last year, helping new scientists enter and grow in the field of diabetes research.

"Attracting and supporting young investigators early in their career lets them mature and compete successfully in the field," says Kolterman. "It is critically important to allow a talented scientist to see a way forward."

The couple has passed their interest in diabetes to their four children, who range in age from 25 to 33. For the past several years, the Kolterman kids have all worked as counselors at Camp Wana Kura. "It was an opportunity to encourage community responsibility and growth in our children," Lorenzi says. "We wanted them to realize that they may not be affected by diabetes, but they can help others who are and make a meaningful difference."

With the help of research programs like ADA's, great strides have been made in the field of diabetes care over the past few decades. To Lorenzi, the advent of home blood glucose monitoring and use of the A1C test have had the most impact. However, she notes, "these changes did not come about by magic. They came from diligent efforts to research new opportunities and new ways to address the changes that are all part of the diabetes package."

Through their support of the Research Foundation, Kolterman and Lorenzi hope that more improvements—and a cure—are on the way. "Research lays the foundation for future observation and changes," Kolterman says. "Finding a cure is a journey."



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