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Leading cause of diabetes hospitalisations targeted in bold research

Health Industry Hub | November 16, 2023 |

Medical: On World Diabetes Day, Diabetes Australia Group CEO Justine Cain emphasised the pivotal role of research in transforming the lives of the 1.5 million Australians grappling with diabetes.

“Research is critical in our fight to drive change to prevent, treat and, ultimately, cure diabetes,” Ms Cain highlighted, underlining the urgency of advancing medical understanding and treatment modalities for the condition.

In a significant stride toward addressing a lesser-known but potentially fatal complication of diabetes, Professor Tony Russell, an endocrinologist and president of the Australian Diabetes Society (ADS), was bestowed with this year’s prestigious Diabetes Australia Research Program’s (DARP) Millenium Award. Professor Russell’s work delves into diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a complication arising from the body’s inability to produce insulin and utilise glucose efficiently.

Describing the critical nature of DKA, Professor Russell explained, “It is caused by the release of free fatty acids resulting from the body’s inability to produce insulin and utilise glucose. This complication often manifests through symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and fatigue, and is frequently mistaken for other conditions, often leading to delayed diagnosis.”

For many individuals, DKA serves as the initial indicator of diabetes, as Melinda Newton of Clyde North painfully experienced with her daughter Kirrily’s diagnosis. Recounting the distressing ordeal, Melinda revealed, “Kirrily was extremely fatigued and rapidly losing weight. She was diagnosed with severe DKA and type 1 diabetes at the age of 9.”

Kirrily’s parents were confronted with the terrifying reality of their daughter’s deteriorating health when her condition rapidly worsened.

“She was admitted to intensive care with blood glucose levels of 44 and ketones of 6, far exceeding the healthy range,” Melinda tearfully recalled. The family was on edge as they were cautioned about the looming threat of a coma.

Expressing her desire to heighten awareness about type 1 diabetes symptoms, Melinda stressed, “Until we can prevent DKA entirely, finding the best treatment to aid individuals like my daughter is crucial.”

Professor Russell, leading a dedicated team of researchers, highlighted the necessity for further investigation into DKA management.

“The choice of fluid for rehydration in individuals experiencing DKA remains uncertain. Our research aims to determine if administering plasmalyte, a balanced salt solution, can significantly improve clinical outcomes and reduce hospital stays,” he elaborated.

This vital research initiative aligns with Diabetes Australia’s commitment to fund 18 research projects across the country in 2024, as announced by Ms Cain. The unveiling took place in Melbourne during the Australian Centre for Accelerating Diabetes Innovations (ACADI) partnering summit, chaired by ACADI Director Professor Elif Ekinci.

Professor Ekinci stressed the importance of addressing DKA, stating, “It is a leading cause of hospital admissions for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients, with nearly 10,000 hospitalisations annually and an estimated 200 fatalities. Not enough research is being conducted into this condition, despite its potentially fatal consequences.”

The event also highlighted ACADI’s dedication to encouraging innovation in health technology, with four research teams competing for a $40,000 prize. Three of these projects are specifically geared towards detecting and managing DKA, emphasising the urgency and significance of combatting this life-threatening complication through robust research and innovative approaches.

“Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show more than one in 10 hospital admissions is diabetes-related, and several studies have shown that one in three people who are in hospital have diabetes,” Ms Cain commented.

“Diabetes is the leading cause of preventable blindness in working age Australians, preventable amputations, end-stage kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease. It also increases a person’s risk of stroke by 1.5 times.

“Diabetes research must be at the forefront of our response to the Diabetes Epidemic. That’s why we have launched our new Diabetes Research Changes Lives campaign. We want to highlight the life-changing and life-saving impact diabetes research has had, and continues to have, on the lives of people with diabetes. We also want to highlight the critical need for more funding to ensure Australia’s world-class diabetes researchers can continue their vital work to create hope for the future,” she highlighted.

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