Diabetes is a game changer for many people- or more specifically, for 1 in 11 individuals of the global population.
And yet, even though its complications and risks are known to us, the insidious and slow-moving nature of the disease might lull those at risk into thinking that there is always plenty of time to fix it.
There is an urgent necessity to develop solutions, relevant to our digital age, to successfully combat diabetes. A challenge that the global community faces, is in translating the experience and knowledge of professional healthcare specialists and scientific research, into a visible and impactful improvement for those at risk with diabetes.
In a venture to tackle this challenge, Biotechin.asia in partnership with NUS Enterprise, inaugurated the talk series titled Confluence Point: Diabetes, on the 21st of September. The aim was to initiate a culture and provide a platform wherein stakeholders working on different aspects of the disease could come together, ideate and collaborate, so as to expedite the fight against diabetes.
The inaugural talk was given by Dr. Sue Anne Toh, Senior Consultant Endocrinologist at NUHS, and Director of the National University Healthy System (NUHS) Regional Health System (RHS) Planning and Development. The talk, titled “Changing the Course of Diabetes: From Molecules, to Man, to the Population.” was a comprehensive introduction to type 2 diabetes, and highlighted the problems we still face in diagnosis and diabetes management.
Hiding in plain sight: blood sugar
In her talk, Dr. Sue Anne Toh explained the molecular aspect of diabetes onset, and how, when left uncontrolled, type 2 diabetes (T2D) results in severe complications such as kidney failure and limb amputation. T2D develops when our bodies become insulin resistant, which could happen either because our pancreas stop producing insulin, or our cells just don’t recognize the hormone anymore. The resulting increase in blood sugar levels gradually drives a hitherto healthy individual into the ‘diabetes pit’.
And the way back up only gets more complex. Dr. Toh highlighted the importance of identifying diabetes in its early stages so as to facilitate early treatment and management. She also stressed how changing lifestyle habits play the biggest documented role in altering the course of diabetes.
While we can’t change our genes (at least, not yet), we can modify our daily behavior, such as inculcating a regular exercise, and less risky diet regime. This could very well have the biggest impact on effacing diabetes.
Watch the full talk here:
The local scene
Not just is diabetes a global burden, but the scenario in South Asia and closer to home could be more serious than we may have yet realized. Several of those who are pre-diabetic (around 50% by the 2016 WHO report) remain undiagnosed.
And as with other multi-faceted diseases, diabetes is severally affected in both prognosis and treatment, by inherent as well as environmental factors. Therefore, it is imperative to evaluate diabetes in the local population, so as to understand and monitor the Asian trajectory of the disease.
Dr. Sue Anne Toh discussed the local diabetes study, BRITE-SPOT (Biobank and Registry for StratIfication and Targeted intErventions in the SPectrum Of Type 2 Diabetes) which she spearheads, that collects biological samples from patients with, and at risk for type 2 diabetes. The study aims to evaluate the diabetic phenotype, and identify bio-markers relevant for T2D susceptibility and prognosis.
To further identify early stage indicators of diabetes, the BRITE-SPOT study was expanded to APT-2D (Assessing the Progression to Type – 2 Diabetes), in July 2016. The objective of the study is to include a prospective cohort focused on non-diabetics, so as to delineate non-glycemic risk factors, that combine to result in T2D.
The APT-2D study is currently recruiting participants. Further details regarding the eligibility of participants and the process of the study may be found here.
Digital age solutions
The technology to monitor blood sugar levels has been evolving in efficiency and ease of implementation over time, and several, glucose-monitoring options are available in the market. Researchers from MIT have even developed color-changing tattoo-ink recently, which could be used to monitor blood sugar in real time.
Dr. Sue Anne Toh showed us how in the long-term, we could capitalize on the advances of digital technology, and our own response to visual representation of what’s happening in our body (by glucose monitoring) to our advantage, so as to implement beneficial behavioral patterns on a wide scale. Dr. Toh and her team intend to work on developing a digital platform that is tailored to individual diabetic patients, and responds to feedback from real-time glucose monitoring.
In many ways, the talk underlined that type 2 diabetes could be a mostly preventable disease. And yet, though its prevention appears deceptively simple, global incidence of diabetes is on the rise. The dialogue during the informal networking session, which concluded the event, underscored this and touched upon the varied ramifications of diabetes in the community.
The event kick-started the Confluence point series and has gathered so far, participants from scientific, industry and pharmaceutical backgrounds.
Some of the pics taken from the event are below: