14 November 2019 | Story Charlene Stanley | Photo Supplied
DIABETES read more
The modern clinical research facilities at FARMOVS where the two ground breaking diabetes studies will be conducted.

Diabetes is no longer seen simply as a disease, but as a worldwide epidemic, with alarming increases recorded in both developed and developing countries over the past few years.

About 3,5 million South Africans have diabetes, and many more are unaware that they have it. 

The FARMOVS clinical research facility on the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State is currently involved in two exciting research studies that could lead to the development of medication for diabetes sufferers burdened by some of its most common complications.

Diabetes in a nutshell

Diabetes is a group of diseases where the sugar (glucose) levels in the blood are too high. 

In diabetes mellitus (DM), the high blood-sugar levels are caused by the body not being able to control the blood-sugar levels properly, because of the body’s inability to produce or use insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and lowers the blood-sugar levels by helping to move the sugar from the blood into the body cells where the sugar is used as a source of energy.

Type 1 DM is often diagnosed in children or teenagers and occurs when the pancreas does not produce any insulin. Type 2 DM occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin, or if the body can no longer use the insulin properly; this is often associated with poor lifestyle choices. Where this type of diabetes used to develop primarily in adults of 40 years and older, it is nowadays not uncommon for children to be diagnosed with it.

It is essential that people who are displaying one or more of the risk factors go for screening. This includes a search Physician at FARMOVS. “If DM is detected early enough, up to 90% of people don’t have to use medication but can address it through changes to their diet and exercise programmes.”

High blood-sugar levels essentially damage the blood vessels, which can lead to long-term implications for a person’s heart, kidneys, eyes, and blood circulation. 
The international studies that FARMOVS forms part of, aim to develop treatments for two of the most common secondary conditions that develop as a result of diabetes. 

Diabetic gastroparesis study

A sufferer’s intestines often don’t function properly due to the damage diabetes causes to the nerves which helps the stomach to empty properly; a condition called gastroparesis. Alleviating this condition, typically marked by abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and early satiety (feeling full after eating only a small amount of food), is the aim of one of the studies.

Diabetic impaired kidney function study

A second research study focuses on developing medication that will have a protective effect on a diabetic’s kidneys.  Although nothing can be done to reverse kidney damage, it is hoped that the treatment will slow down kidney degradation.

Focus on prevention

“Both of these studies are aimed at giving diabetics an increased quality of life, and by no means constitute a cure for their condition,” says Dr Van Jaarsveld.
 “The solution lies in combining the correct and committed use of medication with a decreased calorie intake and an increase in exercise – even if it’s just 30 minutes three times a week.”

Value of educating sufferers

A major benefit for participants in the FARMOVS diabetes research trials, is that they gain valuable insight in their own condition.
Diabetes has been called the ‘silent disease’, since sufferers initially have no symptoms.  For that reason, when the average patient is diagnosed with the disease, he/she already has had it for 10 years.   

For me, diabetes is such a sad disease – especially when you see patients with amputated body parts, knowing that it could have been prevented. It is really up to each individual to take responsibility for their own health,” Dr Van Jaarsveld concludes.

Diabetics who are interested in becoming part of the research studies can register online at www.farmovs.com, or contact FARMOVS at +27 51 410 3111.

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