Diabetes is a devastating disease. It can cause blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks and strokes. In Canada, about 5.7 million people have diabetes that’s been diagnosed – about the population of Montreal and Calgary combined. It’s estimated that another six million live with diabetes or pre-diabetes. And the numbers are only going up.
One of the scientists fighting to improve the lives of people with diabetes is Dr. Andrew Advani, the Keenan Chair in Medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital. We asked Dr. Advani about his work – and how it connects to a movement he’s a big fan of: HUMANCARE.
Why your focus on diabetes?
Diabetes sits at the intersection of the biomedical and the social. On the biomedical side, it’s a chronic health problem that affects many aspects of the body – kidneys, heart and eyesight. On the social side, there are things people can do to either manage their disease or make it worse. For the past 20 years, I’ve been trying to help people live better with diabetes by exploring that intersection.
What’s your biggest motivation?
I primarily look after people, particularly young people, who live with Type 1 diabetes. For them, unfortunately, there’s currently no cure. Although new technologies have improved how we can treat diabetes, some of these young people will develop long-term problems, like kidney disease and heart disease, down the road. I want to change that.
What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on right now?
We just received a million dollar grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to study how diabetes causes kidney disease.
Often when kidney disease happens because of diabetes, it gets worse over several years. This is called chronic kidney disease. We have several treatments that can slow this worsening.
At other times, kidney damage can happen suddenly, especially if someone is sick for another reason or they’ve had major surgery. This is called acute kidney injury, and we’re looking at why people with diabetes are at much greater risk of it.
Our team has discovered that in diabetes, there’s too much of a protein called STING in kidney cells. STING can worsen acute kidney injury. So our focus is on blocking STING from working and, in the process, improving kidney health for people with diabetes.
You’ve heard of HUMANCARE, St. Michael’s Foundation’s movement to reinvent the patient experience. What do you think of it?
I’m thrilled about the HUMANCARE campaign. The focus on improving the patient experience is something we, as providers, should get behind, as it’s perfectly aligned with what we’re trying to do in our program.
What is that?
We’re just starting REDIRECT, which stands for REinventing DIabetes REsearch and Care Together. We’re going to partner with people who live with diabetes so that they can help us design our experiments and decide how best to provide the care that they need.
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