Diabetes is often known as a silent killer — surreptitious and debilitating. And while many suffer from the disease, not everyone suffers in the same way. Some patients are resigned to a lifetime of medicine and insulin injections resulting in high medical bills and lowered quality of life; others suffer from painful complications from the disease. These can lead to kidney failure, blindness or even amputation. With the help of the Tanoto Foundation, one man is leading the fight against diabetes.
Diabetes: The Insidious Disease
Professor Karl Tryggvason is currently the Tanoto Foundation Professor of Diabetes Research at Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore’s only U.S.-styled graduate medical school. The Professorship, established through a gift provided by Tanoto Foundation in 2013, aids Prof. Tryggvason’s work in studying what has become a pressing problem for the region. As Prof. Tryggvason laments, “Diabetes is increasing everywhere. It is unfortunately worse in Asia.”
It is a sentiment Belinda Tanoto, member of Tanoto Foundation’s Board of Trustees, agrees with. “Today, 60% of the world’s diabetic population is Asian. Of the undiagnosed cases in Asia Pacific, the figure is higher than the global average of 46%. This is a situation that we want to change.”
Prof. Tryggvason first started out as a student of architecture, but soon found his calling in medicine. Needless to say, architecture’s loss was medicine’s gain. Today, his research on diabetes provides serious ammunition for fighting a disease that half of all patients in South East Asia suffer complications from. His research heavily focuses on finding better, cheaper, and more effective cures for diabetes. By relying on stem cell research, his team has been attempting to cultivate insulin cells that could prove the key to curing type-II diabetes.
Knowledge not just for Knowledge’s Sake
His work is set to benefit patients worldwide, many of whom currently depend upon more conventional, and unpleasant, forms of treatment. “A major therapy for diabetes is injecting insulin into the body. It is not very nice to have this therapy for your whole life,” said Prof. Tryggvason.
A separate and equally important strand of Prof. Tryggvason’s research delves into the genetics of diabetes. His team is currently looking for the genetic basis that might predispose certain patients to complications such as blindness and kidney disease. Prof. Tryggvason’s team is also looking for protective genes – genes that prevent the occurrence of such complications. In this regard, Singapore’s racial and ethnic diversity provides a distinct advantage.
As Prof. Tryggvason continues to fight the good fight against diabetes, he acknowledges the contribution of the Foundation. “With money coming from Tanoto Foundation, things are more flexible. And it is important to have a certain amount of such money, because in research, we are looking for answers to the unknown, and we cannot always know beforehand, how exactly we are going to do it.”
Founded by entrepreneur and philanthropist Sukanto Tanoto, the Foundation recognises the transformative potential of medical research to enable communities to lead healthier and more fulfilling lives. It supports medical research that addresses health challenges prevalent in Asia such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and infectious diseases. The Foundation actively pursues strategic partnerships with reputable regional centres such as the Duke-NUS Medical School.