Precision medicine treatments for diabetes

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Leading Australian diabetes researchers gathered at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre last week to showcase the work they are undertaking to find better treatments for diabetes, the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia.

Associate Professor Samantha Hocking, an endocrinologist, researcher and clinician from the University’s Sydney Medical School and Charles Perkins Centre, said “1.3 million Australians live with diabetes, a further 500,000 are living with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes, while 2 million are thought to be at risk of developing the condition, and yet still today we treat type 2 diabetes with a ‘one size fits most’ approach.”

Taking inspiration from the approach to treatments given to other conditions – like cancers – Dr Hocking and her colleagues are working to develop precision treatments for type 2 diabetes, and support better pregnancy outcomes for mums with type 1.

“Current treatments for type 2 diabetes don’t consider the individual’s response to therapy or medication, so it is difficult to really know what treatment, diet or exercise regimen is best for the individual,” she said.

“The problem is, diabetes is a complex metabolic disease. It is polygenic, meaning there are a number of genes associated with the disease, and so it is difficult to tailor treatment and prevention.”

Speaking about the impact precision medicine could have on the approach to patient care, Dr Hocking said, “from the time of screening, precision medicine has the opportunity to dramatically enhance how health professionals understand individual patients, ultimately leading to the personalisation of medical treatments, reduced side effects and improved prevention strategies.”

Dr Hocking’s research into the application of precision medicine in diabetes is covering:

  • How genomics can help us understand the individual response to different diet and exercise
  • Bariatric surgery and the beneficial impact on gut microbiome and metabolism
  • Pharmacological therapies for diabetes and the impact on weight loss,
  • Improving pregnancy outcomes for women with type 1 diabetes through better measurement of glycaemic control.

A panel of diabetes experts from the University including Dr Melkam Kebede, Professor Stephen Twigg, Professor David James, and Professor Peter Thorn joined Dr Hocking to answer questions from the audience which covered everything from the impact of healthy gut microbiome on diabetes management, leptin resistance and its effect on weight gain, stem cell research and how this could transform future therapies, right through to type 2 diabetes diet and overeating.

The panel also reflected on how the discovery of insulin in 1923, which has gone on to save many hundreds of thousands of lives, came from clinical research much like their own, adding they were very hopeful their work could soon lead to the next big breakthrough in diabetes treatment.

Sturt Eastwood, CEO Diabetes NSW & ACT said “When we donated $5 million to the Charles Perkins Centre in 2012, we were excited by the innovative and multidisciplinary approach they were taking to crack some of the biological mysteries surrounding the treatment of diabetes.

“We firmly believe that research will be the key to finding a future cure for diabetes. We are indebted to people like Dr Hocking and all the other academics, researchers and clinicians who devote their time to making advances so that future generations have the possibility of a life free from diabetes and its complications,” said, Sturt.

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