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24 October 2022
Monash Nutrition researchers have developed a cutting-edge technique to measure the rate of carbohydrate digestion in humans, which will benefit future research into the discovery and development of novel therapeutics for those with, or at risk of, diabetes and other metabolic diseases.
The new protocol overcomes some key barriers for scientists. Previous methods for testing the effects of chemicals on carbohydrate digestion predominantly used animal models and microbes, garnering results that are not representative of human digestion or inaccurate due to interferences from the test substance.
The latest findings are now published in the Nature Protocols journal.
According to Diabetes Australia, one Australian develops diabetes every 5 minutes and this is continuing to rise.
Carbohydrates that we eat are rapidly digested in our gut to produce sugars, which are then absorbed into the blood. It is important that the body keeps blood sugar levels within a specific target range as uncontrolled and continuously high blood sugar levels can lead to the development of metabolic diseases, particularly type 2 diabetes.
The total annual cost of diabetes in Australia is around $15 billion.
Co-lead on the paper, Dr Michael Houghton from the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food says that blood sugar spikes can be controlled by slowing down carbohydrate digestion.
“There are several TGA-approved drugs that are highly effective at doing this but they often cause uncomfortable side effects, such as bloating and diarrhoea, so exploring new ways to control blood sugar levels without this discomfort could have a huge impact on the 1.8 million Australians currently living with diabetes,” said Dr Houghton.
Up until now, researchers have been testing the effects of food and plant extracts on the rate of carbohydrate digestion, achieving results through colorimetric measurements, which rely on the sugar products reacting with a coloured reagent. The test extracts would often interfere with the results but, with the new protocol, more accurate results can be delivered by measuring direct sugar production.
There is a lot of research that suggests nutrients in the diet can be of benefit, and early results indicate that natural chemicals from plants may offer a compromise by controlling carbohydrate digestion and blood sugar levels, but this pathway is still in an early phase and more funding is needed to take this research further.
“I am delighted to see this work published, it has been a real team effort and several years in the making. We hope that our definitive guide will equip researchers working in the field to deliver more accurate results that can be translated into successful clinical studies to find better therapeutics for those living with diabetes,” said Dr Houghton.
The Monash Nutrition team behind this work, led by Prof Gary Williamson, consists of Dr Michael Houghton, Dr Elizabeth Barber and Rizliya Visvanathan.
Read the full paper in Nature Protocols titled: Measuring key human carbohydrate digestive enzyme activities using high-performance anion-exchange chromatography with pulsed amperometric detection.DOI: 10.1038/s41596-022-00736-0
About Monash University
Monash University is Australia’s largest university with more than 80,000 students. In the 60 years since its foundation, it has developed a reputation for world-leading high-impact research, quality teaching, and inspiring innovation.
With four campuses in Australia and a presence in Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia and Italy, it is one of the most internationalised Australian universities.
As a leading international medical research university with the largest medical faculty in Australia and integration with leading Australian teaching hospitals, we consistently rank in the top 50 universities worldwide for clinical, pre-clinical and health sciences.
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Last updated: Oct 2022


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