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College of Medicine and Dentistry What’s being done about the diabetes epidemic in North Queensland?

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What’s being done about the diabetes epidemic in North Queensland?

Fri, 12 Nov 2021
Categories: Research, Students.

Usman Malabu is the Translational Research in Endocrinology and Diabetes (TREAD) at JCU. JCU Professor Usman Malabu is the Head of The Translational Research in Endocrinology and Diabetes (TREAD) Unit at the Townsville University Hospital.

Diabetes is a big problem in our state, and it’s tipped to get even bigger. Right now there are 19,000 new type 2 diabetes cases in Queensland each year. By 2031, that number could reach 700,000 people with the condition, and 160 new cases diagnosed each day - that's one person diagnosed every nine minutes.

The stats paint an alarming picture, but there is hope for the state’s current and future sufferers of diabetes, and it comes from the North. Right now, Townsville-based researchers are developing solutions through innovative and promising research - like electromagnetic stimulation therapy - and ground-breaking clinical trials.

The Translational Research in Endocrinology and Diabetes (TREAD) was established in 2012 to address the soaring rates of diabetes in the region. It is a collaboration between endocrinologists at the Townsville University Hospital and James Cook University (JCU) researchers.

Head of TREAD and JCU Professor, Prof Usman Malabu leads a team of 18 researchers and clinicians conducting projects with a particular focus on diabetic complications such as foot ulcers and amputations. Prof Malabu has seen the impact of these complications firsthand through his work as an endocrinologist in Townsville for over 14 years.

“The rising prevalence of diabetes in the regions means more patients will present with diabetic complications,” Prof Malabu says. “This can take many forms; ulcers, amputations, eye disease leading to blindness, kidney failure requiring twice-weekly dialysis, and heart attack leading to heart failure and death.”

There are more than 4,400 amputations every year in Australia as a result of diabetes. This is the second-highest rate in the developed world. The North Queensland region is reported to have the highest rate of amputations in the state.

TREAD has pioneered novel landmark studies to diagnose, treat, and monitor diabetes and its complications. These include new technologies in electromagnetic stimulation and shockwave therapies for diabetic foot ulcers and the use of bone turnover markers to diagnose diabetic foot infections in rural and remote areas.

“The novel diagnostic marker we’ve established enables rapid diagnosis of diabetic foot infections,” Prof Malabu says. “In addition to faster diagnosis is more effective healing of diabetic foot ulcers using shockwave therapy. Our hope is that this novel therapy may serve as usual care for patients with diabetic foot ulcers in the future.”

It is innovative, patient-centred research that’s contributing to an expanding body of knowledge on diabetes. Last year alone, Prof Malabu contributed to eight publications on aspects of type 1 and 2 diabetes, including self-management of the conditions and the long term outcomes from diabetic foot ulcers and amputations.

Hand-in-hand with conducting translational research is the facilitating of ground-breaking clinical trials. Right now, TREAD’s offering new treatment options for patients aimed at combating diabetic limb ulcers and amputations. A recent trial on electromagnetic stimulation tested the technology on 100 patients with diabetic foot ulcers.

“Electromagnetic stimulation and shockwave therapies target deep inside the wound and increase circulation in that area. Good circulation is a critical component to wound healing.

“The studies showed a huge difference in the quality of lives for people with diabetic foot ulcers in the region and a significant reduction of the time it takes to heal from years to months, Dr Malabu says.

TREAD has grown a strong focus on the training and education of the next generation of diabetes researchers in the Tropics. Over the years TREAD has mentored JCU students on over 15 projects, including four honours medical students and four Master and Doctor of Philosophy candidates in the 2020-2021 academic year.

“Mentoring the next generation of future doctors through supporting research projects for medical students is one of the biggest achievements of TREAD.”

“We welcome students, researchers, and clinicians to assist and work with us in tackling the rising prevalence of diabetes and its complications in regional and rural North Queensland,” Prof Malabu says.

You can find out more about TREAD’S work and get involved through research opportunities for Honours, Masters and PhD candidate researchers.