7 Dec 2018

Research heartland to combat diabetes and obesity

Aussies love their sugary drinks, and the Obesity
 Epidemic in Australia report recommends a sugar
 tax be applied to soft drinks. Image: Shutterstock
This week a Commonwealth government Select Committee into the Obesity Epidemic in Australia has published its final report (see 5 Dec SMH news article on same).

A recent international study suggested that obesity has overtaken malnourishment as a leading global health problem, and that Australia is one of the most overweight nations on earth. In fact, more than 63% of Australians are now overweight or obese.

And it's not just a local problem. Worldwide, some 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of the diseases and health conditions that go hand-in-hand with being overweight or obese, including heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, cancers, liver and reproductive issues, sleep apnoea and osteoarthritis.

Diabetes is also one of the fastest-growing public health issues in Australia, leading to complications like blindness, amputations, heart disease and death. Today, some 1.7 million Australians are living with diabetes, with Aboriginal populations particularly susceptible.

What is the research community doing to fight obesity and diabetes? As much as it has funding for is the short answer. See below for the research areas focussing on obesity and diabetes at the Alfred Research Alliance in Melbourne.

Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute researchers focus on gaining an understanding of which people are most at risk of the complications of diabetes, and discovering ways to mitigate the effects of the diseases. Groups at the Institute are exploring the complex relationship between physical activity, weight regulation and the genetic and environmental underpinnings of metabolism. Their work sheds new light on the causes and complications of metabolic disorders and obesity, and opens new possibilities for prevention and treatment.

At the Monash Department of Diabetes on Level 5 of the Alfred Centre just next to the Baker Institute in Commercial Road, research groups are working on a diverse range of projects investigating the mechanisms of diabetes and its complications, including heart disease, blindness and kidney disease. The important discoveries made here have the potential to lead to innovative treatments and improved clinical outcomes.

The Centre for Obesity Research and Education (CORE) on Level 6 at the Alfred Centre is improving understanding of obesity and evaluating the health benefits of weight loss. The Centre conducts clinical, psychosocial and physiological research and has a wide variety of projects underway in each of these streams.

One floor up again, the Molecular Endocrinology Laboratory conducts research in two main areas: Firstly, insulin growth factors (IGFs) and cancer, with a view to developing new therapies for the cancers and other diseases in which dysregulation of the IGF system is involved and, secondly, the development of diabetic complications and how novel treatments could limit the renal damage which often goes hand-in-hand with otherwise beneficial treatments which improve glucose control and blood pressure.

Of course, this is just a fraction of the research carried out by Alliance members. If you want to find out more, the Alfred Research Alliance website is a great starting point to investigate our main research strengths and to track down centres, departments and groups located on this precinct.

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