Risk & Prevention

Chronic diseases are associated with risk factors that influence their onset.  Researchers and health care professionals are continually establishing clearer links between cause and effect for a wide range of diseases.  Risk factors for diseases are often influenced by the choices we make, such as eating and exercise habits.  Risk factors can also be associated with our genetic makeup, something that is less controllable.  Primary diseases can themselves often be a risk for secondary complications.  Understanding the factors influencing disease allows targeted intervention so that there is better management or, ideally, prevention of the disease altogether.

Diabetes is a complex disease whose onset is influenced by hereditary, nutritional, lifestyle, and environmental factors.   Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which the host’s own immune system fails to differentiate self from non-self.  The result is an attack on pancreatic islet cells, and in the case of beta (β) type islet cells, a loss of insulin production.  Individuals with a family history of T1D are at higher risk of developing the disease themselves - interestingly though, identical twins have a 30-50% concordance of developing T1D, suggesting both genetic and epigenetic factors play important roles.  Geographical location is also a risk factor for developing T1D with people living in northern climates being at higher risk.   Although research in animal models has revealed some success in delaying the onset of T1D, no such treatments are in place yet for humans.  In contrast, Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a metabolic disorder, characterized by either insulin deficiency or insulin resistance.  Ethnicity is a risk factor for T2D, with Aboriginal, Asian, Hispanic and African populations being at higher risk. The majority of cases (90%) of T2D are related to obesity, and in many cases the disease can be prevented and managed with nutritional and physical activity intervention.  If not, medications exist that can help increase insulin production and/or insulin sensitivity in the body.

ADI scientists use a multidisciplinary approach to predict, prevent and manage diabetes.  The Alberta Diabetes Institute brings together leading scientists from diverse backgrounds to examine the influence that various factors have on the onset or management of diabetes.  They are also translating this knowledge into practical application through clinical and community intervention.  Numerous studies at the Institute focus on nutrition and glycemic control, including meal patterning and functional foods.  The Institute is home to the Physical Activity Diabetes Laboratory (PADL), a well-equipped gym and physical assessment lab that examines the influence of exercise patterns on glucose management, with or without other types of intervention.  The Institute also houses Canada’s only whole-body calorimetry unit, which is being used to research energy profiles in people and how metabolism is affected by food, physical activity and other behaviours.   With this, ADI scientists hope to personalize and optimize interventions for the prevention and management of diabetes.


If you are interested in pursuing research in the area of obesity, metabolism, exercise and nutrition at the ADI, please contact Dr. Catherine Chan at cbchan@ualberta.ca or Dr. Normand Boulé at nboule@ualberta.ca