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Wellington campusThursday 9 February 2017 9:07am

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Associate Professor Jeremy Krebs

Diabetes is one of New Zealand's fastest growing long-term health conditions with enormous costs for individuals, the health care system and society.

This was recognised in today's announcement by the Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith for multi-million dollar funding on research to tackle diabetes.

The Healthier Lives National Science Challenge joined forces with the Ministry of Health and the Health Research Council of New Zealand, to create the contestable fund for long-term health conditions (LTC), announced in June last year.

Two out of the three successful project recipients are from the University of Otago, Wellington (UOW) and all three projects will work towards preventing and managing diabetes and pre-diabetes.

A quarter of all New Zealanders have pre-diabetes, a condition that can progress to type 2 diabetes, and cause significant long-term health problems, says successful recipient Associate Professor Jeremy Krebs from UOW. He is leading a study on preventing type 2 diabetes using probiotics and prebiotics in the diet.

“Research has demonstrated that the microbes in our gut affect our health in many ways including how our bodies process foods and sugars. Probiotic and prebiotic supplements can help modify our gut microbes.

“We will carry out a randomised placebo-controlled study to test whether probiotic supplements and prebiotics can improve glucose and fat levels in the blood of people with pre-diabetes,” says Associate Professor Krebs.

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Professor Diana Sarfati

The other successful UOW project is led by Professor Diana Sarfati and involves evaluating a digital health initiative aimed at helping people prevent and manage diabetes themselves using online tools.

“We will be testing a digital health programme which supports prevention and self-management of pre-diabetes and diabetes. The programme is delivered via web and mobile, working with primary care providers. It uses peer support, health coaches, health tracking, and tools with engaging content to drive behaviour changes,” says Professor Sarfati.

“The initial pilot results showed that more than 70 per cent of pre-diabetics had normal blood glucose levels after four months of being on this programme, which has been designed by digital health company Melon Health” she says.

“The new LTC funding will allow us to do a group of studies, including a randomised controlled trial, to assess the clinical and cost effectiveness of this intervention in reversing pre-diabetes and improving self-management of diabetes, compared with usual care,” says Professor Sarfati.

“We will explicitly assess the impact among Māori and Pacific people, and focus on translating findings into clinical practice,” she says.

The complex nature of diabetes as a long-term condition means a comprehensive and sustained approach that tackles the wider determinants for causes, management and complications is required.

A third successful project, led by Dr Matire Harwood, from the National Hauora Coalition, will aim to improve the impact of clinical and lifestyle interventions for those living with pre-diabetes and people with poorly controlled diabetes.

Reducing the progression of pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes (T2DM) is a priority in the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, and is part of the Ministry of Health's “living well with diabetes” strategy.

Read Government Ministers' media release in full here.

For further information, please contact:

Associate Professor Jeremy Krebs
Department of Medicine
University of Otago, Wellington
Tel: +64 4 918 5894

Professor Diana Sarfati
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
Tel: +64 4 918 6042

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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