Singapore prepares for $15m study to demystify diabetes

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Related tags: Obesity

Singapore researchers hope that a S$20m (US$14.7m) project will “change diabetes’ natural course” in a country whose diabetic population is expected to top 1m by 2050—more than double the current figure out of a population of 5.4m.

The scientists, at National University Singapore, say the large-scale study to examine in detail the factors that are contributing to its progression will improve the outcomes of those at risk through more targeted interventions.

Led by Sue-Anne Toh, an assistant professor at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, the project will recruit 2,300 healthy and pre-diabetic patients for the largest study of its kind in Asia-Pacific. 

Participants will be monitored for three years to find if they develop type-2 diabetes, and assessed on how well their bodies secrete and respond to insulin in a study funded by Janssen Pharmaceuticals and 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 results, which are expected to be released in around five years, should give a better understanding of specific risk factors and identify the biomarkers which increase a person’s susceptibility to developing type-2 diabetes. 

The researchers also hope the study will help them predict an individual’s potential response to treatment and interventions or progression to diabetes-related complications.

We understand quite a bit about diabetes and it’s quite preventable. We only have ourselves to blame if we wind up with 1m diabetics​,” said Chia Kee Seng, the study’s adviser.

Public health officials expect Singapore’s diabetes rate in 2050 to be twice the figure expected through ageing alone due to a dramatic increase in the proportion of overweight and obese people in the country, especially those 40 and under, Dean Chia added.

The study expands on current research by Prof. Toh to build a sizeable biobank of biological samples alongside a registry that captures lifestyle and environmental information, medical history and physical measurements of 3,000 patients with type-2 diabetes, as well as their immediate family who are not diabetic but are at high risk of developing the disease.

Related topics: Policy, Food safety, South East Asia

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