New West Australian research has discovered that a single gene change may be putting people at increased risk of insulin resistance and fatty liver disease by changing calcium levels within energy-producing machines in our cells.

The research by University of WA Professor Aleksandra Filipovska, supported by a $60,000 grant from Diabetes Research WA, found the common variation of a gene changed energy metabolism in cells.

“Our study revealed that this single gene change lowered insulin release on a high-fat diet,” explained Professor Filipovska, who is also the head of the Mitochondrial Medicine and Biology laboratory at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

“This reduced insulin secretion resulted in lower insulin levels, contributing to imbalanced metabolism and liver steatosis, also known as fatty liver disease.

“These findings, published in the prestigious journal, Science Advances, reveal this gene variant may be a predisposing factor to insulin resistance and metabolic disease, including type 2 diabetes.”

The group now hopes to test how specific diets and exercise regimens may affect this single gene change.

“As this gene variation is common it would be incredibly powerful to pinpoint how we may target it to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes by altering our nutrition and energy usage,” explained Professor Filipovska.

“We also hope we can use this new knowledge of the molecular mechanisms linked to this gene change to look for new pharmaceutical interventions to delay insulin resistance.”

Diabetes Research WA executive director Sherl Westlund said: “Type 2 diabetes has an enormous impact on the health of so many and places a significant burden on families and workplaces so it’s essential we look at all avenues to tackle it.”

Professor Oliver Rackham from Curtin University, Dr Stefan Siira and Judith Ermer, both from The University of WA, are also part of the research team.

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Media contact: Natalie Caudle, 0407 984 435,

Western Australia and one of the state’s leading medical researchers is set to play an exciting role
in a new national diabetes research initiative.

The Australian Centre for Accelerating Diabetes Innovation (ACADI) will be a virtual research centre
connecting research hubs from around Australia.

It will also link in with key industry partners and diabetes organisations to help develop new
treatments, technologies and behavioural interventions to meet the challenges of the diabetes

Diabetes Research WA, WA’s peak diabetes research funding group, is financially supporting work
being done as part of ACADI by the head of WA’s Centre for Diabetes Research, Emeritus
Professor Grant Morahan.

Professor Morahan, who is also based at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, said his
project would focus on developing a genetic test which could predict which Australians with diabetes
were more at risk of developing diabetic kidney disease (DKD).

“DKD is the most frequent cause of kidney failure, leading to dialysis or kidney transplant, and is a
risk factor for cardiovascular disease, a leading cause of death in diabetes,” explained Professor

“We will apply our world-first methods to develop a genetic test that can predict a person’s risk of

“A genetic test has the potential to diagnose risk status years before the onset of symptoms, and
those found to be at high risk of DKD could be managed more tightly, to delay or prevent diabetic
complications, improving their health and reducing healthcare costs.”

Diabetes Research WA executive director Sherl Westlund said the generosity of the group’s donors
over a long period had ensured Professor Morahan’s work could be supported.

“There’s a dire need for better ways to tackle the health complications of diabetes and we are very
proud to be backing this powerful research project,” said Ms Westlund.

The Federal Government has contributed $10 million over 4 years to help set up ACADI.

There were 463 million adults living with diabetes in 2019 globally, the majority with type 2.

Media contact: Natalie Caudle, 0407 984 435,

A ground-breaking project helping to better screen for and manage gestational diabetes in rural Western Australia, which Diabetes Research WA has financially supported, has received a $3.2
million boost.

Led by Professor Julia Marley from The University of Western Australia’s Medical School and the Rural Clinical School of WA, the ORCHID Study – which aims to simplify screening and improve management of high blood glucose levels in pregnancy – has been awarded the fresh funding from the Medical Research Future Fund.

In welcoming the financial boost, Professor Marley said diabetes disproportionately impacted the lives of Aboriginal people, with predisposition beginning in pregnancy.

“Hyperglycaemia or high blood glucose in pregnancy increases babies’ risk of birth defects and being born premature and by caesarean, as well as being born larger or smaller than optimum, with low blood glucose levels, and difficulty breathing,” Professor Marley said.

“Babies have increased risk for obesity and altered glucose metabolism in childhood and for future diabetes, and mothers have increased risk for future diabetes and cardiovascular disease – it is a significant and far-reaching health issue, particularly affecting remote and rural communities.”

Ms Erica Spry, Bardi Jawi traditional owner and co-lead from the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services and the Rural Clinical School of WA, said the new funding would allow the project to implement, evaluate and refine the alternative screening that earlier phases of this study identified for detecting high blood glucose in pregnancy at regional, state and national levels.

“The ORCHID Study is to benefit all ethnicities, especially our Aboriginal women, and it is important to acknowledge all the women across WA who have participated in the ORCHID Study, we thank you all,” Ms Spry said.

“With this grant, we will begin sharing sugar management tools to help assist Aboriginal women with managing their high blood glucose levels in pregnancy and work on ways to support the family of the expecting mums. This funding will help us bring benefits back to our community members. As already proven effective, we’ll use three-way learning between Aboriginal community members, health providers and researchers to co-design and trial self-management strategies for high blood glucose in pregnancy. We want to help and assist empower Aboriginal women and their families to make positive lifestyle choices aimed at improving birth outcomes and health for subsequent pregnancies and prevent or delay progression to chronic disease.”

Diabetes Research WA executive director Sherl Westlund said she was thrilled the group had been able to support the work, with a $60,000 grant in 2020, to get to this point.

“As a charity, we’re focused on ensuring promising West Australian diabetes research can be funded so that it can progress to making a real difference on the lives of those who live with diabetes and this project is a wonderful example of that,” she said.

“We look forward to watching the ORCHID Study’s further positive impacts unfold with this fresh funding boost and are thrilled to be part of it.”

The Medical Research Future Fund is a $20 billion long-term investment supporting Australian health and medical research. The fund aims to transform health and medical research and innovation to improve lives, build the economy and contribute to health system sustainability.

The ORCHID Study is a collaboration between the Rural Clinical School of WA, Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services and their member services, Diabetes WA, WA Country Health Services and Diabetes Research WA.

Media contact: Natalie Caudle, 0407 984 435,