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Head of Military Diabetes Institute Hopes to Put Breaks on Growing Epidemic

FORT KNOX, Ky., Aug. 14, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- According to the American Diabetes Association, if current trends continue, one out of every three Americans could be diabetic by the year 2050. However, one Army doctor has made it his mission to halt the epidemic in its tracks.

The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., home of the military’s Diabetes Institute.

Dr. Robert Vigersky is the head of the Diabetes Institute at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md. With a blend of civilian and military medical experiences, Vigersky has taken research, education, and technology related to the treatment of diabetes to a level unmatched at other medical facilities.  A colleague, Dr. David Klonoff, of the Diabetes Technology Society and Medical Director of the Diabetes Research Institute, says, "Dr. Vigersky has designed many research studies that have provided important evidence to guide critical practice in both the civilian as well as the military communities.  His work has definitely raised the level of diabetes care in the US."

"Diabetes is a major health care problem in this country," Vigersky said. "It is a huge challenge to try and make a contribution to stem its infestation in our population."

Vigersky initially joined the Army in 1976 and then left in 1984 for private practice. As a successful endocrinologist at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C., Vigersky took the lessons he learned from that program and rejoined the Army in 2000.

"The Army had more to offer than a full clinic schedule of more and more patients. It wasn't fulfilling to me to grind out patients in the civilian world," he said. "I wanted to do more with research and teaching and Walter Reed allowed me to do that."

He notes that through the Diabetes Institute, he has the flexibility to pursue different avenues of medicine, from teaching and research to patient care, all in one facility, rather than focusing all efforts and funds on one of those areas. This multi-disciplined approach is just one reason Dr. Vigersky thinks the Diabetes Institute is making unprecedented strides in medicine.

Research done at the Diabetes Institute is funded by both military and civilian grants. The research has led to the publishing of dozens of articles cited around the world, including prestigious medical journals. The institute is currently involved in six active research protocols that are investigating innovative ways to help those who are pre-diabetic to avoid getting the disease altogether. The research is also playing a role in the progression and advancement of both pharmaceuticals and the manufacturing of devices for the treatment and management of diabetes.

The Diabetes Institute works to share the advancements and discoveries through the education of other health care professionals. Vigersky conducts workshops several times a year and incorporates health care professionals from all types of facilities. There are programs to relay discoveries in treatment and research to nurses. A once-a-year program helps educate patients in managing the disease, and teaches them about advances in treatment.

Vigersky takes a very active role in the education branch of the institute. According to his civilian colleague, Dr. Klonoff, "When he served recently as President of the Endocrine Society, the world's leading organization of research and clinical endocrinologists, Dr. Vigersky championed many educational initiatives to encourage young physicians to go into the field of endocrinology and to train current endocrinologists to use the latest methods in their practices." He adds, "Dr. Vigersky is a consistent publisher of research in top medical journals and he is in demand to speak at many national and international meetings."

"I try to actively go around to give talks and collaborate with colleagues to ensure they are up to date," Vigersky said.

Susan Walker, administrative director of the Diabetes Institute, echoes the advances made by the Diabetes Institute and how the leadership of Vigersky has been directly responsible for those advancements and education programs.

"He's innovative and a tremendous mentor to so many people," she said. "He pushes the envelope, and sees things as they can be, and brings out the best in people. He is a perpetual optimist."

Technology is playing an active role in diabetes education, research, and treatment. Vigersky has developed a computer program that helps primary care physicians decide what medications may be best for patients under specific circumstances. Information, such as lab work and blood sugar, is uploaded in to the program. The primary care physician can see what medications have been tried and what may work best for that individual patient. An algorithm then recommends the best medication.

"The program helps providers decide what to do," he said. "Primary care physicians are overwhelmed and this is a way to overcome that."

Treatment and management advances at the Diabetes Institute are affecting how diabetes is dealt with across all sectors. Dr. Klonoff explains the importance of Dr. Vigersky's work related to management of diabetes, "Dr. Robert Vigersky and his team at the Walter Reed Diabetes Institute have been conducting very high quality diabetes research for many years," he said.  "Their specialty is identifying and developing practical monitoring technologies and treatments for diabetes (both for outpatients and inpatients).  These approaches include new methods for blood glucose monitoring, continuous glucose monitoring, assessing retinal health,  creating decision support software, and introducing a wide range of telemedicine tools to the practice of diabetes. One recent important study that he designed looked at the outcomes of using a real time continuous glucose monitor in Type 2 diabetes.  Whereas this tool had been reserved for only Type 1 diabetic patients, Dr. Vigersky demonstrated that Type 2 patients also benefit from this technology," Klonoff said. "He showed that the benefits are sustained, not only while the device is being used, but also after use, which is known as a legacy effect."

Vigersky is excited about a number of advances in diabetic care and research across the country. One advancement he cites as being extremely life-changing for diabetics is the artificial pancreas. It will measure blood sugar and deliver the right amount of insulin automatically; it is currently being investigated by leading diabetes experts. Vigersky predicts it may come to fruition in the next five years or so.

Vigersky stresses the fact that diabetes is a major health concern in this country and the Army population isn't immune to the epidemic. Amongst retirees and family members, diabetes is prevalent at a rate that mirrors the civilian population. 

"It is devastating for quality of life and life expectancy," he said. 

Endocrinology is the key to staving off the effects of this disease and Vigersky sees his specialty in general as an "intellectual and professional challenge."

Vigersky and his team rely on military and family member patients to further research, education, and diabetic care initiatives.  Vigersky prefers working with this population. 

"We are very fortunate to have willing volunteer patients. The military community is very geared towards giving back and helping out with research," he said.

Having experienced both civilian and military medical protocol and care, Vigersky strongly believes the Army has given him the means of practicing medicine and pursuing research in a way that he just couldn't do in the civilian world.

"You are allowed to practice medicine at its best. You can make decisions based on what is best for the patient, and then take the time to execute those decisions," he said. "It allows you to do what every medical student intends to do. There is a huge amount of professional satisfaction you don't necessarily hear about in the civilian community,  particularly in specialties," he said.

Vigersky considers the work of his fellow Army endocrinologists and the multi-disciplinary approach of the Diabetes Institute to be cutting edge and the gold standard of care for anyone dealing with diabetes. Endocrinology is one medical specialty in which Army medical professionals are changing the way the disease is researched and patients are treated all over the world.

Dr. Klonoff says, "The contributions of Dr. Vigersky and other US Army medical professionals has improved the way that diabetes is treated in both military and civilian facilities in the U.S. and abroad."

For more information on Army medical careers, call 1-888-710-ARMY, or visit healthcare.goarmy.com/h873

This release was written by Karri L. Moser

Photo - http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20140814/136290

SOURCE U.S. Army Medical Recruiting Brigade

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