Kiwi scientists will investigate whether microbes found inside our gut could hold the key to battling the development of diabetes.

One of three new major projects launched today, the study focuses on preventing type 2 diabetes using probiotics and prebiotics in the diet.

"Research has demonstrated that the microbes in our gut affect our health in many ways, including how our bodies process foods and sugars," said study leader Associate Professor Jeremy Krebs of Otago University.

His team will carry out a randomised placebo-controlled study to test whether probiotic supplements and prebiotics can improve glucose and fat levels in the blood of people with pre-diabetes, something estimated to affect one-quarter of our population.


The study is part of $5.7 million in new funding announced by Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman and Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith, for research that aims to prevent — or improve the management of — a long-term disease that already affects 6 per cent of Kiwis.

A second Otago University project will evaluate a digital health initiative to help people prevent and manage diabetes themselves using online tools.

"We will be testing a digital health programme which supports prevention and self-management of pre-diabetes and diabetes," study leader Professor Diana Sarfati said.

"The initial pilot results showed that more than 70 per cent of pre-diabetics had normal blood glucose levels after four months of being on this programme, which has been designed by digital health company Melon Health."

The new funding would allow her team to complete a group of studies, including a randomised controlled trial, to assess the clinical and cost-effectiveness of the intervention in reversing pre-diabetes and improving self-management of diabetes, compared with usual care.

"We will explicitly assess the impact among Maori and Pacific people, and focus on translating findings into clinical practice."

The complex nature of diabetes as a long-term condition meant a comprehensive, sustained approach that tackled the wider determinants for causes, management and complications was required.

A third successful project, led by Dr Matire Harwood, from the National Hauora Coalition, would improve the effect of clinical and lifestyle interventions for those living with pre-diabetes and people with poorly controlled diabetes.


Stemming the progression of pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes is a priority of the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, which joined forces with the Ministry of Health and the Health Research Council of New Zealand, to create the contestable fund for long-term health conditions.

"Through this union of science and healthcare we hope to make inroads into reducing the toll of these diseases on people's lives and in reducing the burden socially and economically," Paul Goldsmith said.