Demystifying diabetes

03 May 2016 | Research
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Those with diabetes have to closely monitor their sugar levels with a blood glucose monitor

Singapore will be grappling with an estimated 1 million diabetics by 2050, but NUS researchers have launched a large-scale study to get behind enemy lines. “Assessing the Progression to Type-2 Diabetes” (APT-2D) examines in greater detail factors contributing towards the disease’s development. Findings of the $20 million study have the potential to change diabetes’ natural course and improve the outcomes of those who are at-risk or live with the disease through more targeted and effective interventions. It could also lead to improved therapeutics for diabetes.

The researchers, led by Dr Sue-Anne Toh, Senior Consultant at the National University Hospital’s (NUH) Division of Endocrinology and Assistant Professor at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, will be recruiting 2,300 healthy and prediabetic individuals for the largest study of its kind in Asia-Pacific. Participants will be followed for three years at NUH to see if they develop type-2 diabetes (T2D), including assessing how well their bodies secrete and respond to insulin.

APT-2D is a collaboration between NUH and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which funds the study together with Singapore’s Ministry of Health.

“There is an urgent need, both at the individual and population level, to prevent illnesses associated with ageing or lifestyle. To stop and reverse this trend, improved approaches to prevent, pre-empt and treat diseases are needed,” said Dr Toh.

The study’s results, which its investigators anticipate will be released in about five years’ time, aims to better characterise the specific risk factors and identify the biomarkers which increase a person’s susceptibility to developing T2D. It could also predict a person’s potential response to treatment and interventions or progression to T2D-related complications. Diabetics could experience complications such as blindness, kidney failure, stroke and heart attacks.

The study’s adviser, NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health (SSHSPH) Dean Professor Chia Kee Seng, said, “We understand quite a bit about diabetes and it’s quite preventable. We only have ourselves to blame if we wind up with 1 million diabetics.”

diabetes 2

Singapore is projected to have 1 million diabetics by 2050, according to an NUS SSHSPH project

The prevalence of diabetes in Singapore in 2050 is projected to be twice the number expected due to ageing alone, according to an SSHSPH project conducted in 2012. This higher figure is attributed to the dramatic increase in the proportion of overweight and obese people in the population, especially those 40 and under, explained Prof Chia.

APT-2D is an expansion of a current local diabetes study named Biobank and Registry for Stratification and Targeted Interventions in the Spectrum of Type 2 Diabetes (BRITE-SPOT), also spearheaded by Dr Toh. BRITE-SPOT aims to build a large biobank of biological samples and a registry that captures lifestyle and environmental information, medical history and physical measurements of 3,000 persons with T2D, and their immediate family who are not diabetic but are at high risk of developing the disease.

Singapore residents interested in joining the study may contact the research team at brite_spot@nuhs.edu.sg or +65-9135 4495 / 9131 4490 during office hours. They should be 30 to 65 years of age; generally healthy with no known history of diabetes or other chronic diseases requiring long-term medication; and have normal blood sugar levels or are prediabetics.