YSU Professor Leads the Way in Diabetes Research

Diabetes is a life long disease that affects populations worldwide. According to the American Diabetes Association, in the United States alone, 25.8 million adults and children have diabetes: this accounts for 8.3 percent of the U.S. population. Though diabetes numbers continue to rise, so does research, and one professor at Youngstown State University (YSU) performs a study encompassing this area.

For the past several years, professor of biochemistry Dr.Ganesaratnam (“Bali”) K. Balendiran has been researching type 2 diabetes (those who are not totally insulin dependent) in his study “Biochemical Studies of Fibrates and Related Molecules.” Dr. Balendiran, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin- Madison, noted that some aspects of the research include diabetes as a whole, though type 2 is the primary focus.

Dr. Balendiran places a sample in a machine.

Dr. Balendiran received a grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the leading source of funding for medical research, and a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Balendiran’s grant from the NIH is the only operational one at YSU. The activities are housed within the Center for Applied Chemical Biology, one of the designated YSU Centers of Excellence.

The research activity also supports student success, as undergraduate and graduate students are partaking in this study. They are “excited to see something they can bring into the lab that is based on what they have learned from classrooms…” Dr. Balendiran said. Furthermore, students are able to gain firsthand experience in the chemistry field, which will better prepare them as they move toward their careers.

Sorbitol, a sugar alcohol formed in the body through an enzyme catalyzed pathway, was thought to cause diabetes when it accrues in cells. Dr. Balendiran is seeking a way to lower the level of sorbitol by discovering the right fibrates (a group of amphipathic carboxylic acids, mainly used to treat high blood pressure) to enter the polyol pathway, which is initiated in pre-diabetics. Dr. Balendiran conveyed that “chemistry can be utilized to address in the biological setup or to control what is going on in the cell…” One area that has been able to aide Dr. Balendiran significantly in his research is funding.

Grants from the NIH are highly selective and applicants go through an extensive scrutiny process. Dr. Balendiran said that the NIH focuses at certain criteria, for instance, the research itself, and merit, in addition to the research environment, plus much more.

One of the challenges of applying for the grant, Dr. Balendiran said, was to “convince them (NIH) is that in a place like YSU work can be done too.” Though YSU is small in comparison to other colleges, academic research here continues to grow.  Dr. Balendiran’s NIH grant is a prime example of the research capabilities of faculty here at Youngstown State University.