Research partnership moves forward

Deakin and India’s Madras Diabetes Research Foundation are continuing their joint efforts to combat the global problem of diabetes.

Diabetes is a growing issue around the world, with sobering statistics highlighting the impact of the disease in both Australia and India.

According to peak body Diabetes Australia, an estimated 1.7 million Australians have diabetes. The Indian Institute of Public Health says that, with 70 million diabetes sufferers, India has the second largest number of people with diabetes in the world.

It is against this background that Deakin University and the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF) in Chennai, South India, have signed a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) to continue their collaboration into diabetes prevention and education.

MDRF was founded in 1996 by internationally acclaimed diabetologist and research scientist Dr Viswanathan Mohan and his wife, the late Dr Rema Mohan, an internationally renowned specialist in diabetes-related eye disorders, to establish a world class environment in India for research into diabetes and its complications.

MDRF and Deakin signed their first MoU in December 2013 with the aim of promoting diabetes research and education in the India-Pacific region.

“The original MoU was expected to facilitate several research outcomes, including joint research programs involving academics from MDRF and Deakin, scholarships for Indian students leading to PhD degrees from Deakin, multidisciplinary diabetes research through appropriate funding generation and organisation of joint symposia and workshops,” explained Deakin’s Professor David Mellor, Associate Dean (International) Faculty of Health, who has been involved in the collaboration since its inception.

“MDRF is conducting cutting edge research in so many areas, from the biomedical to psychosocial aspects of diabetes, as well as educating and treating people with diabetes. They are also developing commercial products, such as a genetically modified white rice with the qualities of brown rice, and special shoes for people with diabetes.

“Deakin and MDRF share a lot in common in their approach towards rigorous scholarship and helping the communities in which we operate. That’s why we’re so happy to continue with the partnership,” he said.

Dr Viswanathan Mohan is the President and Director of MDRF and Chairman and Chief of Diabetology at Chennai’s Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, a WHO Collaborating Centre for Non-Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control. He established the Sai Rural Diabetes Project at Chunampet, which is internationally recognised as a model for rural diabetes care in developing countries and also provides life-long, free treatment to thousands of poor patients through his diabetic clinics. In 2012, his extensive contribution in the field of diabetes was recognised by the Indian government with the awarding of the prestigious Padma Shri.

Dr Mohan was also recently awarded a Deakin Honorary Doctorate for his outstanding service to people with diabetes in India and other developing countries, and his exceptional scholarship in the global field of diabetes research.

Since 2013, four students from MDRF have enrolled in Deakin’s unique In Country PhD program (a fifth student is under registration), which allows PhD candidates to study and work in their own country while receiving joint supervision from Deakin and their home institute. As part of the program, students spend six months in Australia at Deakin.

“MDRF collaborates with several universities across the globe in US, Canada, UK, Europe and Asia. However, the collaboration with Deakin has been very special to us, because it is the only one where Indian students can work in India and receive their PhD from Deakin University, with the tuition fees being covered by a scholarship,” Dr Mohan said, noting that the Deakin/MDRF collaboration has also resulted in the publication of several research papers.

He said the Deakin/MDRF PhD students were working on a variety of diabetes-related projects that would eventually benefit both India and Australia.

The projects range from investigating the built environment and physical activity in India, to how endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol A may contribute to the development of diabetes in individuals.

The PhD students are also working on how mobile health (m-health) programs may help with preventing Type 2 diabetes, discovering how to best treat monogenic forms of diabetes and trialling yoga programs with school children as a possible way to prevent diabetes.

After successfully establishing the PhD program, Deakin and MDRF expanded their collaboration, developing a Diabetes Nurse Educator’s course in collaboration with MDRF’s education wing, “Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Education Academy” (DMDEA).

“Diabetes nurse educators are practically unknown here in India, but are very much needed,” Dr Mohan said.

“Deakin is very strong in nursing and in education and we wanted to design a course which could be run in India, but with certification from Deakin.”

With curriculum developed by Deakin’s Professor Bodil Rasmussen, Chair in Nursing, Western Health and DMDEA’s Dr Dinesh Selvam, Dean of Medical Studies the Deakin/MDRF Nurse Educator’s course is a first of its kind for India.

As with the PhD program, participants continue working and living in India, while completing the course over six months. The first wave of 20 nurses graduated in July and the next group are already enrolled.

“This course has the potential to have a direct impact on the community,” Dr Mohan said.

“Once the nurses complete the course they can attach themselves to a hospital, clinic or a diabetes centre where they can directly influence the lives of diabetic patients while helping to decrease the incidence and complications of diabetes and improve quality of life for sufferers.”

Dr Mohan described the collaboration with Deakin as a “unique experiment”.

“It’s quite unusual that you start with a research foundation and then suddenly go into another area – such as nurse education – and then that also goes well. It’s a very rare combination,” he said.

“We at MDRF and DMDEA are extremely happy about the way the collaboration with Deakin has developed and look forward to not only expanding the PhD program but also to starting new courses and other novel projects with Deakin. This could pave the way for furthering Indo-Australian ties in research and education.”

Main photograph (left to right): Professor David Mellor, Associate Dean (International) Faculty of Health, Dr Viswanathan Mohan, President and Director of MDRF, Chairman and Chief of Diabetology at Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, Professor Brendan Crotty, Executive Dean Faculty of Health, Professor Steve Allender, Faculty of Health

Published by Deakin Research on 28 September 2017

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