On October 3rd, Dr. Eva Feldman received the Distinguished Alumnus Achievement Award from the Michigan Medicine Alumni Society. Just a few weeks earlier, this Russell N. DeJong Professor of Neurology led a medical workshop and delivered a keynote speech on diabetic neuropathy in Chennai, India.
For Feldman, this year’s visit marked the fourth of her nearly annual trips to Chennai since 2014, when she began a collaborative study with Dr. Vijay Viswanathan, Managing Director of the M.V. Hospital for Diabetes.
Feldman and Viswanathan have since become close personal friends; Viswanathan and his brother Mohan, she explained, are among the top diabetologists in India. Their father is the late diabetologist Professor M. Viswanathan, for whom Dr. V. Viswanathan’s hospital is named.
“He [Dr. V. Viswanathan] invited me to his hospital to give a talk, and we got along marvelously,” Feldman recalled. “We started a collaboration where we phenotype patients based on protocols we’ve developed. He’s hired a staff to examine new patients and assess whether or not they have complications of diabetes.”
“Dr. Viswanathan’s team first determines whether or not the patient has diabetes. Then, each patient is administered a test to see if they have any evidence of eye, kidney, or nerve disease, known as microvascular complications. All of these complications are secondary to diabetes. ”
The study is part of an effort to understand the underlying causes of complications in Type 2 diabetes in populations where many of the affected patients are not obese.
Dr. Feldman has additional clinical and scholarly experience with chronic illnesses like Alzheimer’s and ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Her strong interest in diabetes, however, has fostered a thirty-year commitment to the field.
“Despite the seriousness of the problem, little is known about the mechanisms that underlie how diabetes injures the brain and nerves. Hopefully, that’s where my life’s work has made an impact; we’ve discovered that high lipids are the major drivers of brain and nerve damage in children and adults, more so than high blood sugar,” said Feldman.
With one study of 652 patients already complete, Feldman and Viswanathan’s team has another project in the works. In a new study, they plan to account for body mass index to understand the relationship between fat distribution and the complications of diabetes. The examination--formally called the Chennai Complications Cohort--will include around 2,000 patients.
“It’s a very fruitful collaboration,” Feldman continued. “Together, we’ve written a grant; we have a paper forthcoming as well. The partnership has allowed me to send three medical students to India to train on neuropathy assessments, and I also have a postdoctoral fellow working on the paper and project with me.”
Now a sitting member of the M.V. Hospital’s Board of Directors, Feldman is excited to continue working with Viswanathan and his research team. Their collective efforts, she believes, address a problem that transcends borders.
“Diabetes is a worldwide epidemic,” she said. “India’s particularly strong clinical interest in the disease has allowed me to really delve into my specialty: neurological complications of diabetes in both the feet and the brain. Dr. Viswanathan and I have influenced new patient care guidelines, and I’m excited to see what we’ll do next.”