May 2, 2018

UCalgary teams with Mexican university to tackle Type 2 diabetes

Researchers aim to identify barriers to better disease management in both countries
Odette Lobato Calleros, PhD, a professor from Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de Mexico (back row, seventh from the right), with researchers from The Methods Hub and the O'Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine.
Odette Lobato Calleros, PhD, a professor from Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de Mexico (back row, Odette Lobato Calleros

Researchers from Canada and Mexico are collaborating to deal with one of the most challenging health dilemmas of the 21st century. Members of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine and Odette Lobato Calleros, PhD, a professor from Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de Mexico, are working together to identify barriers preventing better management of Type 2 diabetes.

“Diabetes is one of the most important chronic diseases in Canada and Mexico,” says Lobato. “It affects quality of life, and when it’s not being controlled or managed, it requires a lot of resources from health-care systems. Ultimately we want to improve both.”

Mexico has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world, and one in 10 Canadians lives with diabetes, 90 per cent of them with Type 2. An estimated 25 per cent of those in Canada and as many as 75 per cent in Mexico are not managing their condition properly, says Lobato, who is this year’s University of Calgary Mexico Chair, an honorary position borne from a UCalgary partnership with the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Diabetes is a multi-billion-dollar burden for governments and health-care systems — the World Health Organization estimates as much as 15 per cent of health-care budgets are spent on diabetes-related illnesses.

Lobato is working alongside data scientists and patient engagement experts from The Methods Hub at the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, and clinicians and chronic disease specialists on a study that will marry big data with the patient perspective to see where both countries are falling short. The team will conduct a review to see how health-care systems and individuals in both countries are currently managing Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body fails to produce or use the insulin necessary to regulate glucose, or sugar, levels in the blood. Too much glucose can result in health complications and death, although risks can be mitigated with healthy foods, exercise and medication.

Researchers will recruit Type 2 diabetics in Alberta and in Mexico City to explore the factors that affect disease management.

Odette Lobato Calleros is working with UCalgary data scientists, clinician and chronic disease specialists on a study that has implications for diabetics in both Mexico and Canada.

Odette Lobato Calleros is working with UCalgary scientists on a study that will help diabetics.

Michael Wood, O'Brien Institute for Public Health

The project is still in its infancy, but the team expects some of the socio-economic factors at play in Mexico will look different from those in Canada. By sharing resources and working together, the UCalgary/Iberoamericana team hopes to identify and enhance strategies for diabetes prevention and control.

“The overall objective is to understand how to better manage diabetes, and to understand it from the point of view of the patient,” says Maria Santana, PhD, an assistant professor in the departments of paediatrics and community health sciences and director of the Methods Hub, who is working on the project.

“Also, where are the resources that are in place for patients, and how are they being used? And what can we learn from that big data on which we heavily rely to make big decisions in health care?”

Tyler Williamson, PhD, an assistant professor of biostatistics and data science in the Department of Community Health Sciences, says the project provides real opportunity for both universities in the field of big data analytics. Williamson hopes to bring his expertise to Mexico City and collaborate with Iberoamerica data researchers this summer.

The project is the fruit of strong UCalgary relations with Mexico that includes 22 active agreements with 16 Mexican institutions.

“This is a very unique collaboration initiated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico with the University of Calgary to enhance knowledge sharing between the nations,” says Janaka Ruwanpura, PhD, vice-provost (international) at UCalgary. “We have a terrific relationship with Mexico in terms of research, education, training and international development with many of our academics and students engaged in diverse projects.”

Maria Santana is a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and the Alberta Children Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) in the CSM. Tyler Williamson is a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and ACHRI in the CSM. Odette Lobato Calleros is a professor in Departamento de Ingenierías Química, Industrial y de Alimentos at Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de Mexico.