Helping children with diabetes follow their treatment program

August 27, 2014

By Andy Hyland

Susana Patton

Researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center and Children's Mercy know that treatment regimens for type 1 diabetes can be difficult to follow. And that it's especially true for families with children who are between 5 and 9 years old and are diagnosed with the condition.

Susana Patton, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics at KU Medical Center, will develop a new program to help these families keep up with treatments that have been medically shown to work, but can be a burden to maintain. The work will be funded by a new $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

"We know that the prescribed treatments for diabetes are very effective, but it takes so much time out of a kid's day to manage," says Patton, who will lead the new project.

Patton and others initiated the study after examining data that indicated that children's blood sugar levels were not dropping as much as they should have been, given their treatments. This led the researchers to suspect that children may not be following the treatments as prescribed.

During the first phase of the study, Patton and her team will follow a sample of newly-diagnosed children to determine if they are following their regimen, and if not, why not. That involves monitoring blood sugar levels multiple times per day, and taking insulin before meals and snacks as needed.

In the second phase, Patton will rely on her training as a psychologist and the data from the first phase of the study to develop a new way to work with children and their families to address the issue. She says she believes that working with young children can have health benefits for years to come.

"If we can intervene with these patients early in their diseases, then we can help reduce their health risks even 10 years out, Patton says. "If we can help get these kids in control early, we can maybe help them be more in control by the time they reach adolescence, which is known to be a difficult period for people to manage their diabetes." 

Patton says that she appreciated the support she received from mentors through Frontiers: The Heartland Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, and from a collaborative working relationship between Children's Mercy and KU Medical Center, which helped make the project a reality. Mark Clements, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a pediatrician at Children's Mercy, is a co-investigator on the project. He says this kind of work in young children is important and needed.

"A lot of behavioral interventions are targeted to adolescents and adults, but we don't really have interventions targeted to younger children or their parents," he says. "If you're a parent then you know it's a lot different getting your 15-year-old to do something than it is to get your 6-year-old to do something."

The project received financial support from a grant from the National Institutes of Health, #DK100779, and additional support from a CTSA grant for Frontiers: The Heartland Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, #TR000001.

Last modified: Aug 28, 2014
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