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KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) researchers have found a new way to treat insulin resistance, one of the major impediments to recovery for burn victims.

Victims of burns and other major trauma often suffer from a condition known as the “diabetes of trauma” when their bodies become unable to properly maintain a balance of sugar in their blood. This leads to increased infections, longer hospital stays, muscle loss and death in these patients.

However, research by postdoctoral research associate Sherry Kasper of the department of surgery in UTHSC’s Graduate School of Medicine has found a new approach to treating the insulin resistance associated with burn injury. She presented her research at the annual Experimental Biology conference in April.

Often, burn victims who cannot process the sugar in their blood are given intensive insulin treatments. While this treats the symptoms of the condition, it is a time-consuming and potentially hazardous treatment requiring almost constant monitoring.

“This research was designed to prevent the insulin resistance resulting from injury,” said Kasper. She noted that their research indicated a specific body system was the underlying cause of the condition.

Kasper’s area of expertise is a system that regulates blood pressure, known as the renin-angiotensin system. Since the system is important to insulin resistance in diabetic patients, she and her fellow researchers suspected that it may also affect the insulin resistance that appears in burn patients. Using a variety of techniques, they discovered that burn-related diabetes is tied to the renin-angiotensin system.

“Finding a way to prevent the ‘diabetes of trauma’ could be of enormous benefit in the way we treat burn victims,” said UTHSC Graduate School of Medicine Professor Michael Karlstad, who oversees Kasper’s research. “This is an extremely exciting finding with many clinical possibilities for the future of burn injury treatment.”

In addition to her paper being accepted for presentation at the prestigious conference, Kasper was also recognized with two awards from the American Physiological Society for her work. She won a Caroline tum Suden/Frances A. Hellebrandt Award for young researchers, as well as the Mead Johnson Research Award given for the best abstract for research by a graduate student, resident, or postdoctoral fellow presented in the area of endocrinology and metabolism for the conference.

As the flagship statewide academic health system, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center is focused on a four-pronged mission of education, research, patient care and community service, all in support of a single goal: to improve the health of Tennesseans. Offering a broad range of post-graduate training opportunities, the main campus, with its seven colleges, is in Memphis. The UTHSC Graduate School of Medicine in Knoxville and the UTHSC College of Medicine in Chattanooga also serve as major educational sites. For more information, visit


Jay Mayfield, UT media relations (865-974-9409,

Sheila Champlin, UTHSC communications and marketing (901-448-4957,