Researcher Q & A – Associate Professor Richard Young, University of Adelaide 28 April 2021 Why is diabetes research important? Diabetes exerts a heavy health burden on society and individuals that impairs quality of life and increases the risk of other diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. While current medications are effective at slowing the progression of type 2 diabetes, they are not in themselves a cure, and new thinking and research is desperately needed. Support for diabetes research and researchers is essential so cutting edge research can be undertaken to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying disease processes, identify new targets and pathways to a cure, as well as advice to inform best practices at a community level to prevent new cases. Why did you get into diabetes research? My research career began with industry to discover new ways to prevent and treat reflux disease. This research, on the nerve control of the upper gut, ultimately delivered a new drug to treat reflux disease. This expertise in gut function, and a unique opportunity to work with gastroenterology and endocrinology clinician-researchers at The University of Adelaide, enticed me to a career change towards diabetes research. What has been your greatest discovery or research to date? It is increasingly recognised that the gut is the first point at which blood levels of glucose are managed, yet little was known of how the gut detected and delivered glucose to the blood during a meal. Indeed, most diabetes research had focused on improving ways to dispose and eliminate high blood glucose levels, rather than modifying glucose entry. My research mapped how the human gut detected sweet stimuli, via gut taste receptors like those present in our tongue. I discovered that these receptors were controlled differently in type 2 diabetes compared to health, which could increase the risk of meal-related hyperglycaemia. A subsequent clinical study to understand the impact of diet supplementation with low-calorie sweeteners revealed these sped up glucose absorption in non-diabetic subjects; I also identified changes in specific gut bacteria that predicted the risk of this occurring. These findings provide the impetus for larger scale clinical studies that ascertain whether a diet high in low-calorie sweeteners make it challenging to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Who has been the greatest influence in your career? I am regularly inspired by leading and emerging researchers presenting at international and national diabetes conferences. The melting pot of new concepts, emerging technologies and depth that research can investigate is inspiring, and ever changing. However, the single greatest influence was my Year 12 Biology teacher, Gloria Acton, who decades ago opened the world of biology to me and inspired me to think big. If you weren’t a researcher what would you do? I’ve always had a broad interest in health and took a career path turn towards medical research to impact health at large scale. If I wasn’t a researcher, I could see a career in a medicine-related field as a good choice, possibly one that would use my skills in precision surgery.