Publish Date: 
Wednesday, August 4, 2021 - 14:30

Mater scientists show pre-diabetes worsens lung infections

In a new study, Mater Research scientists have shown pre-diabetes increases the severity of tuberculosis (TB) – suggesting it may also worsen the symptoms of COVID-19.

The laboratory research at Brisbane’s Translational Research Institute found pre-diabetes worsens the impact of TB, causing more severe lung damage.

Patients are pre-diabetic when they have higher-than-normal blood sugar levels, but which are not high enough to be considered Type 2 diabetes.

In Australia, one in three individuals have pre-diabetes, with most completely unaware of their condition. 

Mater Researcher Associate Professor Katharina Ronacher said little was known about the impact of pre-diabetes on the immune system’s response to lung infections.

“With around eight million Australians living with pre-diabetes, it’s important to understand its impact on serious lung infections,” Associate Professor Ronacher said.

“Our study found that pre-diabetes increases the risk of more severe inflammation in the lungs after infection. Irregularities in blood sugar below the threshold of diabetes were associated with significant changes in the lungs which made it harder for them to ward off bacteria.

“Our team is now beginning to look at the effects of pre-diabetes in influenza and COVID-19 because we suspect blood sugar irregularities will lead to more severe cases of the diseases.”

Pre-diabetes has no obvious symptoms and a third of those with the condition will develop type 2 diabetes unless they make lifestyle changes, such as increased activity and weight loss.

However, the research found the immune system bounces back after a change in diet.

“This shows the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight to ward off pre-diabetes and, in turn, bacterial and viral infections,” Associate Professor Ronacher said.

“Understanding the role of pre-diabetes in causing severe respiratory infections will help guide healthcare practices and allow medical professionals to better advise their patients about the best preventative measures to adopt.

“We have set up a model to better study the lung and will use this to test new drugs to improve respiratory infection outcomes, which can ultimately benefit people with and without metabolic diseases.”

The research was a collaboration between Mater Research, The University of Queensland, Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre and the UQ Diamantina Institute, and can be accessed on the Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology website.

This story was published with permission from Mater Research.