PhD project builds network to tackle diabetes in pregnancy

Project title: Simulation modelling to support decision making in gestational diabetes care

Project lead: Louise Freebairn

Louise Freebairn

12 May 2017

A Prevention Centre-funded PhD project has led to the development of a network of senior clinical experts, academics and dynamic systems modellers who are working together to tackle diabetes in pregnancy in the ACT.

The PhD is being undertaken by Louise Freebairn, a manager with the Epidemiology Section in the population health division of ACT Health.

ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Paul Kelly said the Prevention Centre networks had broadened Ms Freebairn’s access to participants in other states and internationally.

“We will suggest something or someone we’ve heard of through the Centre’s broader partnerships, and she’ll immediately email them, very cheekily, and say, ‘Would you like to be involved?’ And they’ve all said ‘yes’,” Dr Kelly said.

“So now we’ve got this incredible support network doing dynamic systems based modelling in relation to diabetes in pregnancy. Everyone has been engaged, and they’ve seen how this sort of thing can work and change the way that they view this particular issue. It’s really quite exciting.”

Key clinicians

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

She has been able to engage a group of eminent experts including the head of ACT’s endocrinology and diabetes service, a professor of neonatology and a professor of obstetrics. They have come together in a series of group modelling workshops with health economists, policy makers and systems modellers to map the causal mechanisms of gestational diabetes.

As a result of their discussions, the project has been broadened to include all diabetes in pregnancy – a growing problem for which relatively simple interventions could make a significant impact on the health of mothers, babies and future generations.

Ms Freebairn said the Prevention Centre had provided access to systems modellers such as Professor Nate Osgood from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, who has decades of experience in modelling diabetes.

“It really expands the horizons on what is possible with this type of project,” she said. “My supervisors at the Prevention Centre, Adjunct Professor Lucie Rychetnik and Associate Professor Jo-An Atkinson, have been crucial to my project and also I have been able to make contact with clinicians outside the ACT who wouldn’t have been able to participate if we didn’t have funding from the Prevention Centre.”

Participants in the workshops identified the priority population level interventions they would be interested in implementing, and by the end of the project will have the evidence to support them.

READ MORE about the gestational diabetes project