I want to make my small contribution to the big picture

Zheng Ju-Sheng

China crisis: Tackling diabetes

In China a vast new middle class has abandoned its bicycles for cars and is using its new-found wealth to supplement rice & vegetables with red meat.

The result: A sharp rise in diabetes type 2. The solution…could well be omega 3 fatty acid according to Cambridge University post-doctoral research fellow and recent winner of the DSM Science & Technology Award, Dr Zheng Ju-Sheng.

Zheng Ju-Sheng

The effects of omega 3 on human brain and immunity function are well known (thanks in no small part to the work of DSM’s own Norman Salem). However, Ju-Sheng has been working on research to prove its effectiveness in treating diabetes 2 and possibly even cardiovascular disease.

Specifically he organized a clinical trial involving 185 diabetics spread the length and breadth of China. Participants were randomized into three groups and taken fish oil (a source of marine-derived omega-3), flaxseed oil (a source of plant-derived omega-3) and corn oil (as a control supplement) respectively for six months.

“We don’t have the full results yet but early signs are promising. It does seem that - as we had hoped - omega 3 has the potential to benefit both diabetes and diabetic complications,” he says.

Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge faced by Ju-Sheng was simply, how do you ensure that subjects spread across a vast country take their pills every day? “As scientists we control many aspects of research and use some very sophisticated technology - but the one thing we cannot control in a clinical trial is patient compliance.”

Diabetes test

Ju-Sheng tackled the problem with some old-fashioned common sense. “I asked the nurses involved with the trial to phone our subjects regularly and remind them to keep taking their omega 3 every day.” Not the most high-tech solution but a perfect example of the practicalities sometimes required in science, even for this most pioneering of research studies.

It seems to have worked. His work has not only caught the attention of DSM, but also Cambridge University, where he is now continuing his research into the various nutritional associations of diabetes – including omega 3.

Already Ju-Sheng is looking ahead to the next scientific challenge: While omega 3 appears to be effective in treating Asian diabetics…its effects are less beneficial to Caucasians.

“The human body works in mysterious ways,” he says. “It's another challenge we have to face – and I’m sure that a science community – and a society - we’ll solve it.”

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