At the Forefront of the Fight Against Diabetes

Globally, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of diabetes cases in recent years. With more than five million diabetes-related deaths in 2014, it has emerged as a universal problem. As a result, diabetes is now firmly at the top of the world health agenda.
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The prevalence of the disease is growing rapidly in regions across the Arabian Gulf, with figures from Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) stating that type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 percent of all adult diabetes cases in Qatar. To meet this challenge, Qatar Foundation (QF) is taking a leading role in the fight against diabetes across the nation by launching a range of educational programs and developing cutting-edge research, as well as collaborating with leading local health organizations.

In doing so, QF is addressing immediate social needs while simultaneously working toward improving the health of Qatar’s population and fulfilling Qatar National Vision 2030.

As part of its ongoing dedication to healthcare, QF launched the inaugural World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) in 2013. Dedicated to creating a better world through global collaboration, it represents a commitment to raising the standards of healthcare nationally and internationally. With diabetes at the forefront of the global agenda, it has become an integral focus of the summit.

Earlier this year, WISH released a comprehensive report titled ‘Rising to the Challenge: Preventing and Managing Type 2 Diabetes’. The study highlights the seriousness of the metabolic disorder, discusses the impact of the disease, and suggests preventative methods.

Dr Abdulla Al Hamaq, Executive Director, Qatar Diabetes Association (QDA), a member of QF, explained the impact to The Foundation. “I was a contributor to the report, and the main aim of the study is to provide information on the disease and encourage people around the world to take action against diabetes,” he said. “The number of sufferers will continue to rise if nothing is done.”

“In Qatar, we have the Qatar National Diabetes Committee, which has been tasked with formulating a strategy to fight diabetes. At the beginning of 2017, the policy will be officially implemented, and will include all the suggestions featured in the report – screening, management, and prevention.

“In fact, the committee not only used the WISH report to create the strategy, but they also incorporated the best of the other prevention programs from around the world."

QDA was established in 1995 and is considered a leading authority on diabetes education and awareness. The QF center strives to provide innovative patient care and comprehensive education, while improving the overall quality of life for those who are affected.

Through a range of awareness programs and healthy lifestyle initiatives with leading organizations from around the country, QDA reaches out to different communities in Qatar, and aims to target all members of society. Educational activities range from the ‘Healthy Kitchen’ of QDA, where nutritionists teach diabetics the best ways to prepare food, to the annual Al Bawasil Camp for children with diabetes, where medical workshops are presented to participants.
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Dr Al Hamaq explained the effect of QDA’s efforts, stating: “The work that is being done in Qatar for diabetes is making an impact around the region. For example, Qatar was the first country to launch a program specifically for students who suffer with diabetes.

The campaign, ‘Rights of Students with Diabetes at School’, educates people within academic institutions – such as administrators and staff members – on the disease. It was a very successful initiative, and other countries have been in contact with us in order to implement it in their own schools.”

QDA has coordinated its efforts across Qatar alongside Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q), a partner university of QF, Supreme Council of Health, HMC, and the Aspire Zone Foundation to coordinate its efforts across Qatar.

“We can’t tackle this issue alone,” Dr Al Hamaq emphasized. “We have to work alongside others to solve the growing problem of diabetes. We have to join together. It is not just the government that is responsible; it is a collective responsibility and it is important to involve everyone.”

Research impact
At WCM-Q, the goal of its comprehensive research program is to target the most pressing health needs of Qatar and the region, which include diabetes. Dr Karsten Suhre, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics and Director of the Bioinformatics Core at WCM-Q, explained how modern lifestyles are playing a key role in Qatar’s burgeoning type 2 diabetes problem.

“Qatar is one of the countries that has been hit the worst, and this is due to an unfortunate combination of genetic factors and changing lifestyles that is especially prevalent in the Middle East,” he said. “Today’s lack of physical activity and exposure to sugar-rich foods is contrary to what those from arid regions have genetically adapted towards, so the result is that this region is witnessing an increase in diabetes numbers.”

Dr Suhre recently led a team of WCM-Q researchers in a study that unveiled new information on the effects of type 2 diabetes on human metabolism. The paper, titled ‘A systems view of type 2 diabetes-associated metabolic perturbations in saliva, blood and urine and different timescales of glycemic control’, has been published in Diabetologia, a leading journal on diabetes.

The research was based on the analysis of metabolites, and involved collecting samples from around 360 participants. Researchers extended the scope of the study to multiple body fluids, and, as a result, were able to identify many new diabetes-associated metabolites, 16 of which had previously never been reported.

Describing the impact, and how the study will enhance the body of knowledge that exists about the disease, Dr Suhre said: “This is a study that I would still characterize as basic research – it creates the basis for further research into new diagnosis tools and therapies for diabetes.

“It shall be beneficial for research in the diabetes field as a whole, and it helps to put Qatar on the map of countries that are doing serious research at the forefront of battling diabetes.”

Seeking Breakthroughs
Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI), a research and development entity under Hamad bin Khalifa University, a member of QF, has been instrumental in carrying out research into diabetes as part of its overall mandate to conduct studies into diseases that are prevalent in Qatar and across the Arabian Gulf.

The research entity is tasked with transforming healthcare through science and innovation, as well as supporting the strategic priorities outlined in Qatar National Vision 2030. It has recorded a number of successes in the fight against diabetes, such as in 2013, when scientists at QBRI teamed with researchers from Imperial College London to find a new process that allows stem cells to produce insulin in a laboratory environment.

This discovery was considered an important step on the way to finding a new and more effective treatment for diabetes. Another milestone was a study in 2013 jointly conducted by QBRI that discovered certain type 2 diabetes patients carried a higher risk of developing blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia.

Through the combined rigor of its research entities and partner universities, QF is meeting the challenge of diabetes by advancing knowledge.

While QF commits to fighting the prevalence of diabetes through groundbreaking research and innovative practices, effective research must always be balanced with effective engagement from an informed and aware public.

Thankfully, it is clear that with the support that follows each QF-related research breakthrough and diabetes awareness program, the nation’s population understands the task it faces and is ready to play its part in solidifying a commitment to healthy living.