Project expanded to tackle all forms of diabetes in pregnancy

15 May 2017

Dynamic simulation modelling will be used to examine the growing problem of all diabetes in pregnancy, as a Prevention Centre PhD project expands due to pressing interest from clinicians and policy makers.

Louise Freebairn

The PhD project is being undertaken by Louise Freebairn, a manager with the Epidemiology Section in the population division of ACT Health.
Ms Freebairn was initially looking at gestational diabetes, or diabetes that develops during pregnancy. However, after input from a group of senior clinicians, systems modellers and academics, the project has expanded to incorporate all forms of diabetes in pregnancy.

Obesity and childbearing later in life mean more women already have glucose intolerance or diabetes before they become pregnant. This makes their management more complex and has greater long-term health implications for both them and their babies.

The risk factors for gestational and type two diabetes overlap so introducing population-level interventions such as encouraging women to lose weight before conception could significantly reduce the burden of diabetes.

Huge impact

“Expanding the project means we can really look at the spectrum of opportunities to intervene for prevention – the impact is potentially huge,” Ms Freebairn said.

“Babies are at increased risk of developing diabetes later in life if their mother has had diabetes in pregnancy. Our model is looking at these inter-generational effects to see if we can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes in pregnancy, and what impact this would have on their children and future generations,” Ms Freebairn said.

Dynamic simulation models bring together a variety of evidence sources such as research, expert knowledge, practice experience and data to create a ‘what-if’ tool to test various policy scenarios over time.

Ms Freebairn is conducting her research while being embedded in a senior role in ACT Health. This has provided her with direct access to key clinicians working in the health service.

Building connections

Through the Prevention Centre network, she has also made connections with international leaders in systems modelling as well as with academic experts, policy makers and clinicians from across Australia.

“The support that’s come from the Centre and beyond the Centre for this work has been quite extraordinary,” said ACT Chief Health Officer, Dr Paul Kelly.

“It’s about not just the high level policy people and professors, but underneath that is the next level of really practical people on the ground and young people who are really learning from this. I have great hope that they are the ones that will change the paradigm in the future.”

The group modelling workshops have been completed, and Canadian health data science expert Professor Nate Osgood and his team are building the dynamic simulation model.

Once the model is complete, scenarios to be tested include the use of an app containing health recommendations for women to use pre-conception and during pregnancy.

Ms Freebairn’s project forms part of a larger body of work at the Prevention Centre using dynamic simulation modelling to inform policy decisions in complex public health problems.

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Helen Signy, Senior Communications Officer