Research // Diabetes & Metabolic Disease //

How genetics affect the development of obesity and diabetes, and the response of these to treatments in New Zealand populations

Rates of obesity and type-2 diabetes are 2-3 times higher in Māori and Pacific populations than for the general population in New Zealand. This therefore represents a major health challenge of particular importance to the country.

The Maurice Wilkins Centre has supported a range of projects to identify genetic variants that may predispose Māori and Pacific people to increased risk of developing conditions such as obesity and type-2 diabetes.

The aim is to use this information to understand how to better prevent and treat these conditions. We are particularly interested in understanding how gene variants might affect the way that commonly used drugs work.

This work will be done in partnership with joint research centres the Maurice Wilkins Centre has established with two Māori health care providers (the Moko Foundation in Northland and Ngāti Porou Hauora on the East Coast) and with input from the Pacific community.


'Sugar in Schools Study' to measure differences in fructose uptake in New Zealand school-age children


Fructose is a major component of sugar (sucrose) and thus an important component of our diet. However, evidence indicates that the uptake of fructose from the gut varies greatly between individuals and can be influenced by a range of factors, including genetic factors. Little is known about these differences in fructose uptake between individuals. Therefore, the Maurice Wilkins Centre has initiated a school-based study using a simple breath test to assess how much fructose someone absorbs.

The 'Sugar in Schools Study' will allow for the collection of important data on the impact of sugar on New Zealanders. Furthermore, it will also provide novel educational opportunities to school children as it provides a new self-learning approach to metabolic health education. The experiments are run by the students themselves and they have access to educational content supplied by the Maurice Wilkins Centre.