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Derby gala to bolster UK project

The University of Kentucky plans to develop a new center to research and fight diabetes and obesity, thanks to millions of dollars in donations from Derby party hostess and UK alumna Patricia Barnstable-Brown of Louisville.

Barely a "kernel of an idea" only four or five months ago, the new Barnstable-Brown Diabetes and Obesity Center could be up and running within months, UK officials said.

The plan is for a "virtual center" — there would be no free-standing building — bringing together UK experts from various colleges and disciplines.

One goal would be to develop a statewide strategy to combat diabetes and obesity.

The plan was unveiled at UK on Monday amid flashing lights, loud music, gyrating dancers and waiters bearing trays of food — all suggesting the atmosphere at the annual Barnstable-Brown Derby-eve gala in Louisville, which will be raising money to support the new center.

According to UK, $1 million from previous Barnstable-Brown galas already has been donated. Barnstable-Brown and her family also plan to give an additional $1 million in the next few months. Finally, the family has committed to give the new center all the proceeds from the parties in 2009, 2010 and 2011. That's expected to generate between $1.8 million and $3 million, UK said.

Barnstable-Brown said the center project would give donors an opportunity "to actually see their dollars make a difference in diabetes."

The planned center is the second major diabetes initiative at UK in recent weeks. Last month, the university won a $10.5 million federal research grant to look at how obesity causes both diabetes and heart disease

Barnstable-Brown's husband, Louisville psychiatrist David Brown, died of complications from diabetes in 2003.

About 28 percent of adult Kentuckians are obese, and Kentucky ranks seventh nationally in prevalence for both diabetes and obesity.

About 445,000 adult Kentuckians have diabetes — roughly one in seven — and about a third of them don't know it yet. An estimated 611,000 Kentuckians are pre-diabetic, meaning they are at high risk of developing the disease. Diabetes is Kentucky's sixth leading cause of death.

Medical experts say, however, that, with proper treatment, many of the devastating complications of diabetes can be prevented or delayed.

All that makes the time right for a Kentucky center to work diabetes and obesity, said Dr. Jay Perman, dean of the UK College of Medicine. Perman said the idea was born four or five months ago when he was approached by Dr. Fred de Beer, UK's internal medicine chief; Lisa Cassis, professor and chair of UK's Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences; and Dr. Lisa Tannock, UK's endocrinology chief. UK then approached the Barnstable-Brown family for funding help.

According to officials, experts from up to 11 UK college and departments, ranging from medicine to nursing to pharmacy and agriculture, would work under the center. The plan still must win the UK Board of Trustees' approval.