Diabetes and obesity

It is estimated that 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. The 2005 Australian AusDiab Follow-up Study (Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study) showed that 1.7 million Australians have diabetes but that up to half of the cases of type 2 diabetes remain undiagnosed. By 2031 it is estimated that 3.3 million Australians will have type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a chronic condition.  For our bodies to work properly we need to convert glucose (sugar) from food into energy. A hormone called insulin is essential for the conversion of glucose into energy. In people with diabetes, insulin is no longer produced or not produced in sufficient amounts by the body. So when people with diabetes eat glucose, which is in foods such as breads, cereals, fruit and starchy vegetables, legumes, milk, yoghurt and sweets, it can’t be converted into energy.  Instead of being turned into energy the glucose stays in the blood. This is why blood glucose levels are higher in people with diabetes. Glucose is carried around your body in your blood. Your blood glucose level is called glycaemia.

Causes of diabetes
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is not yet known, however, it has a strong family link and cannot be prevented. It has nothing to do with lifestyle, although maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important in helping to manage type 1 diabetes. At this stage nothing can be done to prevent or cure type 1 diabetes.

Risk factors
Many Australians, particularly those over 40, are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes through lifestyle factors such as nutrition and physical activity. Family history and genetics also play a role in type 2 diabetes.In Australia, nearly two thirds of men and half of all women are overweight or obese. This is a key factor in the alarming rise of type 2 diabetes. Yet up to 60 per cent of diabetes cases could be prevented, or at least delayed, by people maintaining a healthy weight.

Up to 60% of cases of type 2 can be prevented and we know that good blood glucose control and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can significantly improve the complications associated with diabetes.

Diabetes research at the Perkins
The Perkins diabetes group is part of the world-wide Type 1 Diabetes Genetics Consortium, and is leading collaborative networks across Australia and the Asia-Pacific region in assembling resources to identify the genes which affect the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. We also study animal models of type 2 diabetes and diabetes complications. Our work has resulted in the identification of genes affecting each form of diabetes in both humans and mice. We are now investigating ways that we can restore the ability to produce insulin by developing stem cell treatments. Finally, we are also establishing state-of-the-art "systems genetics" technologies, which will integrate multiple levels of data with underlying genetic information, allowing the definition of networks of interacting genes.

Call for Participants in Type 1 Diabetes Genetics Study

The latest results from the Centre for Diabetes Research suggest that brothers and sisters of someone with Type 1 Diabetes may have a different "genetic signature". If this is true, we should be able to develop a test to identify a person's risk of developing Type 1 diabetes.

To validate such a test, we are conducting a research program (with ethics approval). This will require us to test DNA samples from unaffected adult brothers or sisters of someone with Type 1 Diabetes.  We hope that 400 such people will help by providing a DNA sample.

If you are interested in helping, please email Bek Brittain on bek.brittain@perkins.uwa.edu.au

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