Diabetes is a global scourge, affecting tens of millions of people around the world. In a move to address this international health challenge, on June 12, 2012, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and India’s Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad signed a joint statement to begin a formal research relationship in diabetes between the National Institutes of Health and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Through this new collaboration, the two nations hope to accelerate efforts to better understand the mechanisms underlying diabetes and to identify innovative solutions to prevent and treat the disease.
About 26 million Americans have diabetes1; in India, the burden is estimated at over 62 million people.2 Millions more in both countries are at increased risk for developing diabetes and its health complications. The challenge of diabetes for the United States and India is complex and multi-faceted: in the United States, persons from racial and ethnic minorities, and those of lower socio-economic status, are disproportionately affected by diabetes. Across India, many challenges exist in accessing affordable health care, including diabetes care. Simultaneously, rapid economic growth and workforce transitions over the last few decades have led to changes in the Indian population’s physical activity and diet, which further contribute to diabetes risk. In both nations, diabetes is increasingly striking in younger age groups, with potentially devastating implications for the health, well-being, and productivity of future generations.
In addition to sharing this burgeoning public health problem, both countries already conduct substantial research on diabetes, such as examining lifestyle interventions and metformin to prevent type 2 diabetes. The new joint statement provides greater opportunities for researchers in India and the United States to join forces in projects ranging from research to identify genes for diabetes to bettering public health efforts to manage and treat diabetes. For example, one potential area of collaboration may be in studying why people of South Asian origin develop diabetes at a lower body mass index and waist circumference than people of other ethnic origins—a question of interest to both India and the United States, with its large South Asian population.
“Both the United States and India have a vested interest in improving our understanding of, and treatment for, diabetes and in finding economical ways to do both,” says NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin Rodgers, which will lead the U.S. role in the collaboration. “Initiating this research relationship will enable both countries to share expertise and engage each other in research to lessen the burden of diabetes—in the United States, India, and around the world.”
As a first step in partnering, the NIDDK and ICMR held a scientific workshop on February 4-6, 2013, in New Delhi, India. The theme of this initial workshop was the development of affordable and practical approaches and technologies for preventing and managing diabetes and its complications. Both countries could benefit from such approaches and technologies, which are needed to reduce the human toll of diabetes and the high costs of care. The workshop convened diabetes researchers from India and the United States and asked them to identify scientific opportunities in diabetes prevention and management that could be pursued through collaborative efforts. NIDDK and ICMR plan to use these ideas in developing the next steps of the joint Indo-U.S. diabetes research initiative in 2013.
1 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA.
2 Anjana RM, et al. Diabetologia 54 :3022-7, 2012. Epub 2011 Sep 30.