Diabetes: Research

First published in Beyond India, December 2016 edition

Deeksha Rao

Diabetes is the body's inability to respond to and/or produce insulin and it results in a wide range of symptoms and complications. It is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the world, with over 400 million people affected. The approximate cost of diabetes in Australia is around $14 billion per year however, this is rapidly increasing. While there isn't a cure for diabetes, there are a number of different therapies for reducing symptoms and preventing complications of the disease. However, with the number of side effects of current treatments and many drugs being less effective on their own, the need for newer, cheaper, and more effective diabetes therapies is as high as ever.

While we know what diabetes is, how it can develop, and how it is linked to many other diseases, there is still a lot to learn. An improved understanding of the way diabetes develops may lead to the discovery of newer therapies for preventing and treating diabetes. Due to this, there are thousands of researchers all over Australia working towards uncovering new insights into the condition, with the potential to lead to new therapies and treatments.

There are different ways of researching diabetes and they depend on what the researcher is trying to find. Initial studies are commonly conducted in cells. Scientists study what is about the cells, hormones, and proteins of a diabetic patient that make them diabetic. Using these insights they develop drugs targeted at the problem. But it’s not enough to simply develop drugs in the labs, they have to be tested for safety. Animal models such as rodents, which experience diabetes similarly to humans, can be used to check that drugs do what they should do in the real world and are safe. If these are successful, further studies are conducted in humans, which again check effectiveness and safety in real patients. Human testing costs millions of dollars so only drugs that are very likely to be safe and effective make it to this stage.

Currently, less than $1 billion is allocated towards diabetes research, despite the healthcare cost of diabetes being above $14 billion. Scientists rely primarily on grants and funding from the government and research organisations to pay for their research. Whilst there are many organisations that provide funding and grants for diabetes, such as the Diabetes Australia Research Program, Australia is currently experiencing a healthcare crisis. There is limited funding being given towards scientific research by the government and there are hundreds of medical research workers leaving the field due to lack of funding. This prevents sharp minds in the scientific industry from discovering new insights and therapies, worsening the burden of diabetes on the community.

So how can you help? You can start by donating to scientific and diabetes research charities and by encouraging friends and family to pursue careers in research if they are passionate about it. It is more important than ever to support scientific research, with the heavy healthcare burden in Australia.