Manitoba receives $500K funding grant to investigate soaring rates of Type 2 diabetes in kids

A $500,000 grant for research on Type 2 diabetes among children in Manitoba’s Indigenous communities is expected to help shed light on an area of growing concern.

The grant was gifted to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba by TD Bank, the hospital said in Winnipeg on Friday. 

The money will go toward understanding why the risk of Type 2 diabetes is so high in Manitoba’s Indigenous communities and to develop prevention and treatment strategies for kids diagnosed with the disease.

“This gift will … really make a phenomenal difference,” said Terry Klassen, CEO and scientific director of the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, the research division of the foundation. Data shows the rates of Type 2 diabetes are 12 times higher in Manitoba compared with the national average, he added.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that occurs when a person’s blood sugar is too high, and the body is unable to make enough insulin to help control it. If it’s left untreated or improperly managed it can lead to life-threatening complications.

Nearly 90 per cent of children with Type 2 diabetes in Manitoba are of Indigenous heritage, according to the institute.

“We know that it remains a significant burden and that’s why we’re focused on it,” he said. “We’re investing in it.”

One in three Canadians has diabetes or prediabetes, including an estimated 1.5 million people who don’t know. About 90 per cent of people with diabetes have Type 2.

Klassen said clinicians have been working on deepening relationships with Indigenous communities so they can work toward preventing the spread of Type 2 diabetes from generation to generation.

The institute has four dedicated research themes, including DREAM — diabetes research envisioned and accomplished in Manitoba, which launched in 2012.

Since research into DREAM began, researchers such as Dr. Elizabeth Sellers, a pediatric endocrinologist, have found that Type 2 diabetes in the province is increasing across all sectors of the population. Children of Indigenous heritage are, however, at particular risk, she said.

“We’re looking at prevention and management strategies,” Sellers said.

Her colleague, Dr. Allison Dart, a clinician investigator and pediatric nephrologist at the Children’s Hospital, co-leads the DREAM team.

A woman with a stethoscope smiles.
Dr. Allison Dart is a pediatric nephrologists, and co-leads the DREAM team. (CBC)

Type 2 diabetes has been reported in children for only about the past 30 years, Dart said, so researchers like herself are only now starting to understand the health impacts of the long-term disease.

“Rates are increasing worldwide, however, First Nation children are among the most at risk, with a 20-fold higher likelihood of diagnosis than other children,” she said.

Dart says her research team has learned about biological risks for the disease, including the impacts of in utero exposure, metabolic changes and the risk for early complications, such as kidney disease resulting in the need for dialysis treatment.

“This is a disease that more commonly affects disadvantaged children that have been impacted by all of the negative aspects of colonization. As such, systemic racism, poverty, access to healthy foods and safe places to play, culturally relevant care and stigma are significant barriers,” Dart said.

“Quality of life can be low and mental health is often affected.”

She says addressing mental health is a critical aspect of Type 2 diabetes care.

Several people stand around by a big cheque.
The Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba received a $500,000 annual grant gift for research focused on Type 2 diabetes in children in the province’s Indigenous communities from TD Bank on Friday. (Submitted by Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba)

The grant funding will help with the creation of programs for youth with diabetes, which will focus on mental health, skills and wellness. The programs will utilize dialectical behaviour therapy, as well as traditional approaches to wellness, Dart said.

The discoveries that have been made, have improved care and the understanding of inheritance of Type 2 diabetes and its complications. The grant funding will also aim to provide one other thing to children and individuals living with the disease, according to Klassen.

“I think it gives hope to the researchers, but more importantly to the children and families and youth.”

The $500,000 is part of an annual grant program TD established in 2020, when it made a commitment to invest $15 million over a 10-year period to help Canada’s Children’s Hospital Foundations.

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