New funding for diabetes research

Coinciding with National Diabetes Week (8-14 July), researchers at Flinders are embarking on two new studies to support those living with type 2 diabetes.

Thanks to new research grants from Diabetes SA, the investigations will separately look into the impact of negative stereotypes (led Professor Paul Ward with PhD candidate Heath Pillen) and implications for type 2 diabetes treatment from better understanding of the regulation of gut derived glucagon (led by Professor Damien Keating), all from the College of Medicine and Public Health.

The $20,750 and $50,000 grants were announced by Diabetes SA recently.

Around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes. This includes all types of diagnosed diabetes (1.2 million known and registered) as well as silent, undiagnosed type 2 diabetes (up to 500,000 estimated).

As well, an estimated 2 million Australians have impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose (collectively pre-diabetes) and are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes in coming years. Evidence shows type 2 diabetes can be prevented in up to 58% of high risk cases.

Diabetes Australia says 280 Australians develop diabetes every day – that’s one person every five minutes – and failure to implement a comprehensive national type 2 diabetes early detection program could be costing the Australian health system more than $700 million each year.

The national ‘It’s About Time’ campaign urges people over 40 to organise a checkup their GP.

The awareness campaign warns that half a million people have silent, undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. If not diagnosed early, type 2 diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, kidney damage, amputation and heart attack.

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases over the age of 40, especially if you are overweight or have a family history of diabetes.

Early diagnosis, treatment, ongoing support and management can reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications.

Although people living with diabetes hope to feel valued and live a full live, this can be hard to achieve when they are being unfairly labelled with negative stereotypes.

Professor Ward says the new research project will analyse the impact of a six week education program for people with type 2 diabetes who feel blamed, ashamed, or devalued because of their diabetes.

“This program is based on a method that helps participants examine and make meaning out of their own experiences, particularly negative experiences which made them feel marginalised,” he says.

“Stigma is a real issue because it can limit their feelings of self-worth and present additional challenges for condition self-management. This has been shown to result in poorer mental health and medical outcomes in some individuals.”

College of Medicine and Public Health researcher Heath Pillen says there is emerging Australian and international research to suggest that stigma is having a profound impact on those living with diabetes.

“It is surprising that there are few tried and tested approaches to counter the impact it has on their lives,” he says.

“What is needed is an educational approach that can help people with diabetes understand how negative stereotypes are formed and help reconstruct more helpful beliefs.”

“This will result in improved quality of life and self-management, reducing the barriers in realising their full potential as members of society,” Professor Ward says.

“I’m very interested to see how this approach to education might help stigmatised individuals to dismantle negative stereotypes that function to blame, shame, and devalue those with diabetes.”

The research team is seeking people living with type 2 diabetes for more than two years in Adelaide’s southern suburbs to take part in the study in July and August.

You can contact the Flinders University research team for further details about the study at

Meanwhile, Professor Keating says the ‘Understanding the regulation of gut derived glucagon and its implications for type 2 diabetes treatment’ project aims to take more critical steps forwards in better managing blood glucose levels.

This project will focus on the work at Professor Keating’s laboratory in collaboration with other Australian and international researchers, who have identified that the human gut is also capable of synthesising and secreting glucagon.

The novel research discovery is investigating how the hormone is central to the control of blood glucose levels.

“If we can understand how to control the release of this hormone from the gut wall, we may then be able to identify drugs that can control glucagon levels in our blood,” Professor Keating says.

“As such our ultimate aim would be to lower blood glucagon levels as a novel treatment approach for high blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.”

As glucagon is a peptide hormone of essential importance for glucose homeostasis, it has always been considered a pancreas-specific hormone and one that plays a central role in maintaining blood glucose levels through its stimulatory effects on glucose production from the liver.

Furthermore, their data indicates that nutrients from food stimulate the release of gut-derived glucagon.

The aims of this project are to understand how nutrients trigger glucagon secretion from the gut, what other signals control its secretion, and whether or not gut-derived glucagon release is increased in humans with diabetes.


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