New national research centre puts the spotlight on diabetes

Professors David ONeal Richard MacIsaac and Dr June Lu

Pictured from left: Prof David O’Neal, Prof Richard MacIsaac and Dr Jean Lu, Project Lead for the artificial pancreas research project

St Vincent’s is playing a key role in a new national research centre aimed at improving the lives of people living with diabetes.

The Australian Centre for Accelerating Diabetes Innovations (ACADI) will be led by the University of Melbourne, with affiliated centres located at three major Victorian hospitals including one based at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Fitzroy campus.

St Vincent’s is well-known for its ongoing contributions to the health research sector, with diabetes being one of its primary areas of focus.

St Vincent’s Director of Endocrinology, Professor Richard MacIsaac, will be heading up research projects for the new Centre focused on diabetic kidney disease, and  Professor David O’Neal, from St Vincent’s Department of Medicine, will be leading research aimed at preventing hypoglycaemia and hyperglycaemic hyperosmolar syndrome – which occurs when blood sugar levels are very high for long periods of time, and ketoacidosis – a condition that develops when the body is unable to produce enough insulin.

The development of kidney disease is a common and serious complication of diabetes, and can lead to kidney failure, explains Prof MacIsaac. 

“We need better ways of identifying patients at risk for kidney function loss and better treatment options for these patients. In addition, people with kidney disease often find it is very difficult to control their blood sugar levels,” says Prof MacIsaac. 

Research projects based on campus at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, funded by the Australian Centre for Accelerating Diabetes Innovations, will test novel treatments to prevent kidney function loss and to help patients with kidney disease keep their blood sugars levels in the safe range.


ACADI aims to deliver innovative interventions for timely diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diabetes and its complications.

ACADI was established through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) funding from the Australian Government’s Targeted Translational Research Accelerator Program, delivered by MTPConnect.

A further $13.3 million received from academic and industry partners will enable ACADI to progress 18 research projects.

Research goals

The Centre’s first research project is already underway and being led by Professor O’Neal. It will examine the usefulness of closed loop insulin delivery in people with diabetes and chronic kidney disease.

Managing glucose levels in a person with advanced kidney disease can be very challenging. This is because the impairment in kidney function can prolong the action of insulin and, conversely, resistance to the glucose lowering effect of insulin may increase. In addition, the two methods of dialysis traditionally used in treatment can impact an individual’s glucose levels in different ways.

“A closed loop system (also known as an artificial pancreas) continuously measures a person’s glucose levels and uses a computer to automatically adjust the delivery of rapid-acting insulin accordingly to maintain their glucose levels within a healthy target range,” explains Prof O’Neal.

This project will compare glucose levels in people living with diabetes who also have advanced kidney disease using an artificial pancreas versus their usual care. 

“If it is demonstrated that closed loop devices are effective in these vulnerable individuals there will be a practical option that could substantially improve both their physical and psychological well-being.” 

The project plans to start recruiting trial participants at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne in May and will eventually expand to other trial sites.