October 2017 | Issue 32
How do you solve a problem like diabetes?

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By Ho Sze Yuan, LKCMedicine Year 1 PhD student

I am thankful to be given the chance to take part in diabetes-related research in my undergraduate and postgraduate studies under the mentorship of LKCMedicine Assistant Professor of Molecular Medicine Wang Xiaomeng. More than 400 million people have diabetes globally and this number is expected to rise to 642 million according to the International Diabetes Federation’s 2015 statistics. Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is the most prevalent form of diabetes and factors like obesity and physical inactivity continue to fuel its rise. Amongst developed countries, Singapore has the second highest incidence of diabetes and one of the main issues raised in the National Day Rally 2017 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was the war against T2D in Singapore.

What makes T2D such a threat is that it can often go undiagnosed and hence untreated for years, and people with uncontrolled diabetes are at a higher risk of developing debilitating health complications. Additionally, whilst T2D is largely prevalent in adults, we are starting to see more adolescents and children being afflicted. Early detection through screening, diet control and lifestyle modifications are key measures that individuals can take to fight against this epidemic. But what can researchers do?

As part of LKCMedicine’s PhD curriculum, I had an invaluable opportunity to participate in a short clinical attachment with the endocrinology department of a local hospital. Shadowing doctors on their rounds shed light on some of the day-to-day challenges faced by clinicians in the management of diabetes. In the clinical setting, I saw how patient diagnosis and treatment are often complicated by underlying comorbidities or factors such as age, with no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to treating patients.

This experience prompted me to think about how we could better align our research efforts in diabetes with the current unmet gaps in clinical medicine. Are our current in vitro or in vivo models of T2D appropriate or can they be improved? Are there any overlooked areas that we have missed out as researchers? Promoting more in-depth collaboration and discussion between clinicians and researchers could potentially lead to more synergistic solutions for future diabetes care and treatment. Admittedly, research on diabetes and its complications is complex and challenging. However, if we could incorporate perspectives of clinicians, patients and caregivers, it might offer us different and fresh insights on how we can make our current research more relevant and meaningful.

On a personal note, this experience encouraged me to reflect more critically on the significance of what I am working on. Currently, I am investigating potential targets and their functions in retinal blood vessel formation, focusing on their role in diabetic ocular complications. Hopefully, this experience can help shape my understanding and bring me closer to uncovering more pertinent, alternative treatment strategies to complement existing ones.