Diabetes is the epidemic of the 21st century and one of the biggest challenges confronting Australia’s health system.
Around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes, including approximately 500,000 who are yet undiagnosed.
With figures showing at least 280 Australians develop the disease every day, it’s good to know emerging technology can deliver the help needed to tackle diabetes.
At the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, the Australian Society for Medical Research presented the latest exciting diabetes developments.
Replacing insulin-producing cells
University of Adelaide professor Toby Coates has been working on the “ultimate cure” for Type 1 diabetes — new sources of insulin-secreting tissues for transplant. He presented a 3D printing replacement insulin-producing cells saying, “What we’ve done is we’ve taken some cells, we’ve printed them into three dimensions and we’ve shown that cells survive…”
Coates says research has found organs could actually be made, blood vessels could be put in, and cells could be placed to stop rejection, and it can be done right here, in Australia.
Stem cells for wound healing
Professor Allison Cowin has been focussing on the wounds that form and don’t heal in patients with diabetes. A leader in regenerative medicine research at the University of South Australia Future Industries Institute, Cowin says chronic wounds often lead to amputations and patients usually die within the following five years. Her research has found stem cells can be delivered to the wound and then changed into the cells required to heal the wound.
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity for patients who at the moment do not have options,” Cowin says, highlighting that human trials are at least 12 months away.
Adelaide scientists are at the forefront of research on how dietary changes can help those suffering Type 2 diabetes. It has found that in some cases eating for better health and nutrition has eliminated the need for diabetes medication.
Leading the SAHMRI nutrition and metabolism team is professor Chris Proud. He says, “It’s all a bit controversial but I’ll be talking about studies done here in Adelaide and also in the United Kingdom showing how changing your diet to eat less carbohydrate or decreasing your total intake of food or calories can reduce the effects of the disease…”
No more painful pricks
Australian adults with diabetes now have the option of using a new glucose monitoring device, which eliminates the need for regular finger pricking. The Abbotts FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System has been available in Europe for years and has made the lives of diabetes sufferers much easier. It works by having a small sensor the size of a 20 cent coin worn on the upper arm for 14 days, which can be scanned to get a blood glucose level reading in less than one second up to 12 times a day. It is also water resistant, meaning users can wear it while bathing, showering, swimming and exercising.
Supporting mental health and wellbeing
Registered nurse Lauren Botting says supporting the mental health and wellbeing of people diagnosed with diabetes is still not being done very well, but it’s certainly a lot better thanks to her Diabetes Consultancy service. She says it’s important people recognise all shapes and sizes get diabetes, and that practising mindfulness can make a big difference to a person’s quality of life.