The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque is looking for more than two dozen Type 2 diabetics to participate in a five-year study whose objective is to determine the best pharmaceutical drug that lowers their high blood sugar.

In all, UNM has recruited 120 patients over the last year and now only needs 30 more to round off the study. A couple of prerequisites to qualify include being a Type 2 diabetic for fewer than 10 years and to currently take  Metformin, "the gold standard" for treating high blood sugar among diabetics.

That's according to Elizabeth Duran-Valdez, who's leading the study for the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.

"We know that people are a little bit leery about participating in health studies,"  says Duran-Valdez, a clinical research associate for the center. "But it's going to be a great benefit: We're going to pay you for your travel if you're coming from far away, and you're going to get free medication for the next five years."

Plus, in addition to seeing your regular primary physician, which is required of all patients, you're also going to reap the benefits of an hourlong, one-on-one consultation every three months, where the center's staff will take your A1C while reminding you of the changes in lifestyle and diet that will help lower your blood sugar levels, she says.

UNM isn't the only school trying to get to the bottom of which drugs are best for Type 2 diabetes, an affliction that affects an estimated 204,000 New Mexicans and is increasing here at 13 percent every year, the center says in a press release.

Nearly 50 medical centers associated with universities in the country are joining forces, with a total 5,000 patients. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases is funding the comparative study under the National Institutes of Health—and two years ago UNM received a $2.8 million grant to participate until 2020.

Called Glycemia Reduction Approaches in Diabetes: A Comparative Effectiveness, or GRADE, the study hopes to help Type 2 diabetic patients get their blood sugar under control in what is essentially an epidemic whose costs are said to exceed $240 billion per year in medical costs across the country.

That's the price paid when your pancreas either doesn't produce enough insulin to lower the blood sugar or it's producing it just fine, but your cells are failing to take the insulin in.

"A lot of people aren't even aware they have diabetes, and they don't go to the doctor until they're sick with something else, and that's when they find out," Duran-Valdez says.

Common symptoms include an increase in blurred vision, thirst, frequent urination and either a sudden weight gain (or loss). The four medications that will be added to the regimen of patients in the study are all FDA-approved: Glimepiride, Sitagliptin (Januvia), Liraglutide (Victoza) and Glargine (Lantus).

One quick way to test yourself is by buying a glucose monitor at any pharmacy and prick your finger, and if your blood is under 116 after eight hours of fasting, you're in great shape. If your blood exceeds 116 or reaches the 150-160 or even the 200 mark, then it's not so good and you'd better see a doctor.

An A1C is a three-month test that gives you an average of what your blood sugar has been. If the results are between 5.6 and 5.8, you're not diabetic. If it's above 6.2, then you are considered a diabetic. All diabetics try to stay below 7.0 to avoid complications that, when left unchecked over a long period of time, can cause kidney failure, congestive heart failure and eye problems.

If interested, call Duran-Valdez at 272-5454 or email her at evaldez@salud.unm.edu