Prof Peter Colman wins Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research Award

Professor Peter Colman’s three decades of exceptional research and clinical practice in the field of diabetes has been recognised by Diabetes Australia at the annual Research Australia Awards held in Melbourne last night.

In accepting the Diabetes Australia Outstanding Achievement in Diabetes Research Award, Professor Colman said, he was honored to receive the award and warned that with the rates of diabetes increasing in Australia and world-wide the need to focus attention on diabetes was never more pressing. “All types of diabetes continue to increase in prevalence. In Australia 280 people develop diabetes every day. All people living with diabetes are at risk of serious complications. We must double our efforts. We need to prevent the development of diabetes, better manage the care of those who have diabetes, and of course, research should lead the way at every step.”

Diabetes Australia’s CEO Adjunct Professor Greg Johnson, who presented the award, said, “Peter is not only an exceptional researcher, he’s an exceptional role model for clinical researchers in diabetes. His passion to improve the care of those with diabetes has been the driving force behind his work as a teacher, mentor, clinician and researcher. He is a wonderfully caring and humble person.”

“Peter’s contribution goes beyond his role in research, he is considered an expert in global diabetes understanding and is responsible for over 200 peer-reviewed publications,” said Professor Johnson.

Professor Colman's major research interests now centre on the prediction and prevention of type 1 diabetes. This has led to his involvement with an international trial of a nasal vaccine which aims to prevent people from developing type 1 diabetes.

Trials have so far shown the vaccine can switch off the body’s immune response to insulin in adults. Professor Colman and Professor Len Harrison run the trial which involves collaborators all over Australia, New Zealand and Germany. Professor Colman and Dr John Wentworth also run the Australian/New Zealand Type 1 TrialNet International Centre which aims to predict risk, preserve insulin production and eliminate type 1 diabetes. Professor Colman describes these trials as the culmination of 25 years of collaboration with the international research community. For the future, Professor Colman believes more work needs to be done in the prevention area. He also believes there is a lot of scope for improvements in the treatment of people at diagnosis to help preserve their insulin function and reduce the future complications.

“Treating people before it starts and at diagnosis are the future.” In terms of a new technology, Professor Colman points to the combination of an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor, and the move toward an “artificial pancreas” which is getting closer.

In terms of islet transplants - while islet and whole transplants work, they are problematic, he says. “Firstly, there is the supply of cells. There needs to be a quantum breakthrough of stem cells readily available. Then, with transplants, there’s the need to suppress the immune system, which can also be a burden for recipients.”

Professor Colman is reticent about predicting when a cure may be found.

“What I will say is that the pace of research is breathtaking and I strongly believe that prediction and cure are within our reach.”

Professor Colman’s leadership contribution to the diabetes world has been extensive. He is a past president of the Australian Diabetes Society and has been on the board of Diabetes Australia and Diabetes Victoria for a number of years.

Since 1988, Professor Colman has been the head of the Endocrinology Laboratory and since 1991, the Director of the Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology at Royal Melbourne Hospital.

He has also been the Honorary Professorial Associate at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the Clinical Professor at the University of Melbourne at the Department of Medicine.

Professor Colman is Chairman of Melbourne Health Human Research and Ethics Committee.

Professor Colman is married to Petalee. The couple have two sons, Tim and Christopher.

Written by:

Diabetes Australia and Diabetes Victoria