Jane Lynch, M.D., '84, on the frontlines attacking type 2 diabetes in children, youth
When Jane Lynch attended Oakwood High School in Dayton, a friend of hers had type 1 diabetes. She knew when her friend needed insulin. She would look for signs of low blood sugar—sweating, shakiness, weakness, hunger, or confusion.
Her friend’s diabetes sparked her interest in the disease. As an undergraduate at Indiana University, she majored in microbiology and genetics. Her advisor persuaded her to apply to medical school to become a medical researcher.
While at Wright State University School of Medicine, Lynch prepared for a career in pediatric endocrinology. “In medical school, I was drawn to pediatric endocrinology from early on for both the clinical and research challenges,” she said.
She and her classmates sometimes went back to her parents’ home in Oakwood, where Bill and Jackie Lockwood would cook out for their daughter’s medical school friends. Her parents got to know many of her classmates. In addition, medical school was where she met her husband, retired U.S. Air Force Col. James Lynch, who was originally from San Antonio but stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. “He always calls me his war bride,” she said.
Following her graduation from medical school in 1984, she went to St. Louis Children’s Hospital for an internship in pediatrics. She completed her final two years of pediatrics residency at UT Southwest Children’s Medical Center in Dallas and a two-year fellowship in genetics, endocrinology and metabolism at Children’s Hospital of Oklahoma to be near her husband when he was transferred to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. She completed her final year of fellowship in pediatric endocrine/child psychology with a grant to look at the impact of chronic disease (diabetes) on families at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, before joining the pediatric endocrine faculty.
Lynch joined the pediatric endocrine faculty at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., for three years during her husband’s assignment at the Pentagon. When he was transferred back to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, she joined Pediatric Associates of Dayton and served as an adjunct faculty member at the Boonshoft School of Medicine.
In 2005, Lynch, her husband and their two sons moved to San Antonio, where she became an investigator with the TODAY study, a nationwide research study dedicated to finding the best ways to treat young people with type 2 diabetes. She currently is a professor of pediatrics and the fellowship director for pediatric endocrinology at the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
As a pediatric endocrinologist, Lynch treats children who have hormone disorders, which include issues with growth, puberty, or diabetes. The TODAY study is the first large intervention study in youth-onset type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the body does not use insulin properly. Over time, the pancreas cannot make enough insulin to keep the blood glucose levels normal. This can result in damage to the eyes, kidneys, or heart.
In the past 10 years, type 2 diabetes has begun appearing in children and adolescents. “Type 2 diabetes is often much more aggressive in children than adults,” she said.
She explained that the blood vessels and the hearts of these patients are very stiff from the exposure to sugar. “Heart disease is the number one killer in these patients,” she said. “Their degree of early hypertension is an ominous sign, and these patients are having early cardiac and kidney complications.”
The rise in type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents is a consequence of the rising rates of obesity in youth, Lynch explained. She attributes it to a combination of genetics and a child’s environment. Lower socio-economic factors also play a role.
In San Antonio, type 2 diabetes is prevalent in the Hispanic population. Several factors contribute to the disease. Children can’t play outdoors because they live in unsafe neighborhoods. In addition, the food served in the home might not be nutritional. Children also tend to drink sugary drinks, such as colas and juice. Lynch has noticed that the research shows that local children gain weight during the summer when they are hot and drinking sugared beverages. “We’re big believers in encouraging water,” Lynch said. “Sweet drinks make you crave more sweets.”
To combat type 2 diabetes, Lynch and others are working with families. “Once the children are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they need to take medications to make the insulin more effective, in addition to improving diet and exercise,” she said. “Studies suggest that a cocktail of medicines may be important early on in the disease.”
Type 2 diabetes rarely reverses. Prevention is the key. Lynch argues that prevention starts in the womb. When a fetus is developing, the mother’s diet impacts the developing baby. She also recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies. During the toddler years, juice should be limited. Sugary drinks like colas should not be give to toddlers and young children.
While it is hard to balance teaching medical students, conducting research, and seeing patients, Lynch loves what she does. “Endocrine is really a nice mix of science. There is much research that really needs to be done,” said Lynch. “At the same time, we are applying what we are learning to improve kids lives. We’re using insulin pumps and technology that really makes a difference in letting kids be kids. They can be safe and still play.”