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Otago diabetes study seeks participants of different ethnicities

Wednesday, 12 April 2017 12:37pm

Dr-Patricia-Whitfield-image
Dr Patricia Whitfiled hopes her weight loss study will have major implications for how New Zealand doctors manage pre-diabetes and diabetes in people from different ethnic backgrounds.

A University of Otago research study which will examine how well people of different body shapes and different ethnicities respond to a weight loss diet is looking for 20 men to participate.

The study, being run by Wellington campus PhD student Patricia Whitfield and overseen by the Deputy Head of the Department of Medicine Associate Professor Jeremy Krebs, will use the new state-of the art calorimetry suite at Wellington campus’ Centre for Translational Physiology to compare energy expenditure, body fat and glucose processing in the participants.

Dr Whitfield, an endocrinologist at Wellington hospital, says the study could have major implications for how New Zealand doctors manage pre-diabetes and diabetes in people from different ethnic backgrounds.

"This has led us to question whether the underlying causes of diabetes is different in each group – perhaps they process sugar in different ways?"

“As an endocrinologist, a large proportion of my job involves seeing individuals with Type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, often by the time I am seeing them in clinic, they have developed complications like problems with their vision or kidneys. If we can find ways to prevent people developing Type 2 diabetes in the first place, this will have hugely significant benefits for the health of New Zealanders.”

Dr Whitfield says New Zealand Maori, Pacific and South Asian individuals have significantly higher rates of Type 2 diabetes than New Zealand Europeans.

“Interestingly, despite that, New Zealanders from each of these ethnic groups tend to have very different body composition (body shape). This has led us to question whether the underlying causes of diabetes is different in each group – perhaps they process sugar in different ways? This could have implications for how we manage pre-diabetes and diabetes in these individuals.”

She is looking for 20 men aged between 18 and 65 years to participate – five from each of the following ethnic groups: New Zealand Maori; Pacific; South Asian (Indian, Sri Lankan etc.) and New Zealand European.

The participants will follow a low calorie diet prescribed by their team until they have lost 10 percent of their body weight.

“We will follow them up closely with phone calls and visits during the diet to monitor their progress. At the beginning and end of the diet, they will need to come to the Wellington Medical School for a variety of tests looking at how they process sugar.”

"I hope our research will help us see whether the diet advice we give Kiwis is appropriate for all New Zealanders, or whether we need to think of other ways to reduce diabetes risk."

Dr Whitfield says this study would not be possible without Otago’s incredible facilities at the Centre for Translational Physiology.

“This will provide us with a ‘one-stop-shop’ where we can measure energy expenditure (calories burned) in our participants using the new state-of the art calorimetry suite; measure body composition on a scan and measure glucose processing, all in one location. As far as I am aware, no other facility in New Zealand has the same capabilities.

“In addition, as part of this study, we are going to be developing a technique called ‘stable isotope dilution’ to look at the way the liver processes glucose. To our knowledge, this is the first time that this has been used in local diabetes research, and is considered the gold standard measurement of liver glucose metabolism internationally.”

Dr Whitfield says this study could have huge implications in terms of diabetes management in New Zealand.

“Type 2 diabetes is such a growing problem in New Zealand, and one in four adult New Zealanders have ‘pre-diabetes’ – a precursor to diabetes which will lead to Type 2 diabetes in most.

“We need to be able to find ways to prevent pre-diabetes from developing into Type 2 diabetes. While we tell individuals to ‘eat less’ and ‘exercise more’ in order to address their risk of diabetes, the reality is that is incredibly difficult for people to achieve. I hope our research will help us see whether the diet advice we give Kiwis is appropriate for all New Zealanders, or whether we need to think of other ways to reduce diabetes risk.”