The Yale School of Medicine and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) recently announced that the Connecticut branch of the Stop and Shop Supermarket Company has become the corporate supporter of a hypoglycemia research center at Yale.

The center, which incorporates researchers and resources from the Yale-New Haven Hospital, the Yale School of Medicine and the Yale School of Nursing, has been named The JDRF Center for the Study of Hypoglycemia at Yale University — Generously Supported by The Stop and Shop Supermarket Company.

The center was originally established without a corporate sponsor at Yale in 2000 to research the effects of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, in the treatment of juvenile diabetes, also known as Type 1, or insulin dependent diabetes. The new sponsorship will provide additional opportunities for research into the disease at the center.

The Stop and Shop corporation has been a long-time supporter of JDRF and diabetes research. Over the past nine years Stop and Shop and its employees and customers have raised over $3.6 million for diabetes research. For next year, the company has set a fundraising goal of $1,250,000 for JDRF.

“The Connecticut division has been a supporter of the JDRF for quite some years, and that has come about due to the interest and participation of senior management, and the workers, as well as the vendors and the customers,” said JDRF spokesman Peter Cleary.

Dr. Robert Sherwin, professor of endocrinology at Yale, is director of the JDRF Center. Sherwin’s research focuses on hypoglycemia, and the autoimmune mechanisms that cause Type 1 diabetes.

“As we developed new methods for treatment for Type 1 diabetes that were more effective — the rate of severe hypoglycemia increased about three fold,” Sherwin said. “It is one of the major limitations to the therapy that we can offer.”

Patients with Type 1 diabetes do not produce a hormone called insulin, which controls the absorption of sugar from the blood stream into cells. High blood sugar results in serious complications, which can include blindness, kidney failure and nerve damage.

However, as new technology more effectively reduces blood sugar levels, more patients are developing hypoglycemia. Diabetes therapies result in the patients’ decreased ability to fend off hypoglycemia, which is also regulated by hormones in the body, Sherwin said.

“The problem is that when we keep the blood sugar levels from going too high, we often end up aggravating the problem with low blood sugar because we’re not replacing blood sugar as well as the body would do it,” said Dr. William Tamborlane, professor of pediatric endocrinology. “And in young people, a concern is that depriving the brain of its primary fuel — sugar — may result in permanent damage.”

Hypoglycemia can cause behavioral changes and seizures — even coma and death in extreme cases. Hypoglycemia is an immediate concern for patients with diabetes because unlike the slower moving effects of high blood sugar, low blood sugar can result in surprise attacks.

“There’s a fear among patients that they may lose control,” Sherwin said. “A fear of the type of complication that can occur suddenly is greater than the fear of long-term complications that can occur 20, 30, 40 years down the road.”

Studies at the JDRF center will examine the behavioral impact of diabetes and the fear of hypoglycemia on children with diabetes, Sherwin said.

In addition, studies at the center hope to yield novel drug therapies to combat hypoglycemia.

“We’ve identified many molecules that may be involved in [hypoglycemia] and we’re beginning the develop drug targets for studies,” Sherwin said.

JDRF was founded in 1970 by parents with children diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, and has since raised more than $680 million for diabetes research worldwide. JDRF has funded 31 new research centers internationally, including centers at Harvard University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.