Professor Natalie The receives $2.6 million grant to study diabetes

Furman University Health Sciences professor Natalie The has been selected to receive a $2.6 million, four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to advance research in diabetes among children and young adults.

Dr. The will partner with Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to conduct research as part of a longitudinal study in six states, including South Carolina. The national project, SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth, is the largest study of youth with diabetes in the United States and is funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases among children in the United States, according to the CDC. About 150,000 young people under the age of 18 have diabetes, and each year, more than 13,000 young people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Beginning June 1, The and Mayer-Davis will study the relationship between nutritional status and diabetes-related complications. They will examine whether levels of nutrients within the blood (vitamins D and E, and fatty acids) and dietary patterns among youth and young adults with diabetes are associated with risk of developing cardiovascular disease, retinopathy and kidney disease.

“Typically, we think of these complications emerging at later ages or adulthood, not in childhood,” The said.  “However, recent studies suggest even children with early diabetes are already exhibiting some signs of these complications. This is a unique opportunity to advance our understanding of the disease and to, hopefully, help children and young adults with diabetes to improve their health.”

The’s research interests include better understanding the etiology of obesity and predisposing factors shaping the inequality in risk for minority groups. She completed a one-year post-doctoral fellowship at UNC-Chapel Hill where she focused on nutritional determinants of insulin sensitivity and preservation of β cell function in youth with type 1 diabetes.

Since joining the Furman faculty in 2011, The has continued her work on childhood obesity by examining how policies have influenced obesity levels in elementary school students. Her research has been featured in USA Today, Time, and on NPR.

The received her bachelor’s degree in health and exercise science from Furman in 2003, her master’s degree in epidemiology from Emory University and her Ph.D. in nutritional epidemiology from UNC-Chapel Hill.  She was a member of the women’s tennis team at Furman and was named to the Southern Conference Academic Honor Roll all four years.