Researching a complex disease like diabetes requires a collaborative effort, and U of T has just embarked on one of the biggest collaborations between industry and public health in Canada’s history. Novo Nordisk, a global health-care and pharmaceutical company based in Denmark, and U of T are each investing $20 million to create the Novo Nordisk Network for Healthy Populations, with a goal of improving the lives of people with diabetes and those at risk of developing diabetes and other chronic illnesses. “This is an outstanding opportunity to really do some truly impactful research on making populations healthier,” says endocrinologist Lorraine Lipscombe, the network’s director, an associate professor in the department of medicine and a senior scientist at Women’s College Research Institute.
The network unites three U of T partners – the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and U of T Mississauga – to carry out research, education and outreach tackling various aspects of diabetes management, risk and prevention, both in the health-care system and in high-risk communities.
Among the issues they’ll tackle: making diabetes health-care services more co-ordinated and accessible to patients; examining built environments to see how adding walking trails and cycling lanes and other opportunities for physical activity could decrease disease risk; investigating whether digital tools can help people manage their diabetes; and improving outcomes for people going through health-care transitions, such as young people with Type 1 diabetes who fall through the cracks when they start managing their own care at age 18.
Based at UTM, the network will test various programs in Mississauga. The city is an ideal location for several reasons. The rate of diabetes in Peel Region (where Mississauga is located) is 26 per cent higher than the provincial average. It has large South Asian, Latin American, Indigenous and Black communities. These groups have a higher genetic risk of diabetes and many face poorer health outcomes due to socioeconomic factors such as income, education and discrimination. What’s more, the city has many car-dependent neighbourhoods that limit walkability. “One of the big priorities is to ensure that we focus on equity, making sure our solutions are accessible to vulnerable populations,” Lipscombe says.
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