Park Nicollet takes fight against diabetes to China

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 26, 2011 - 10:08 PM

Clinics will teach doctors there how to treat growing problem.

Park Nicollet Health Services is launching a five-year project to help Chinese doctors and public health officials try to stem the tide of the country's growing diabetes epidemic.

A two-year training program, based on one used at Park Nicollet's International Diabetes Center, will aim to teach about 500 Chinese doctors how to prevent, identify and treat a disease that currently affects 1 in 10 Chinese people.

"This has the potential to become a model used in India and other places where we're worked before, but never on this scale," said Roger Mazze, senior vice president of research and development of the center.

Mazze said he is excited by the project because it has high-level government support and will work directly with 20 public health clinics across the country.

St. Louis Park-based Park Nicollet has a long history of working to improve diabetes care around the world. The International Diabetes Center, which it established in 1967, provides care, education and research for 22 countries.

But in China, the need to focus on diabetes care only became evident in recent years, as research showed that the condition is much more widespread there than had previously been known.

Per capita, it is about as prevalent as in the United States. About 92 million people in China have diabetes -- more than any other country in the world -- and another 150 million are showing early symptoms, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. But research suggests that in most cases it is going undiagnosed.

Park Nicollet's effort aims to educate people about the signs of diabetes and the benefits of diet and exercise in keeping it at bay. Diabetes is a risk factor for heart diseases, which is China's No. 1 killer.

"Seems to me China is trying to move very rapidly to achieve improved care by what I consider a very logical and sensible means," he said. "They're trying to find the best doctors in China ... and they're assuring that communities will be prepared for the changes that are about to occur. In the long run, I think they'll show that they can improve care very rapidly."

The project is funded by $3.9 million from the Paris-based pharmaceutical company, Sanofi, to China's Ministry of Health.

Park Nicollet is coordinating the training program with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and clinicians from the World Health Organization. Training begins in September, when the first of four classes of 100 to 150 doctors begin training in Beijing.

At the end of the program, 10 percent of the participants will be selected to continue training at the International Diabetes Center in St. Louis Park and at the Mayo Clinic.

Five years ago, Park Nicollet's International Diabetes Center trained doctors at a hospital in Nanjing, on the eastern coast of China, and documented fewer complications as well as improvements in blood pressure, and glucose and cholesterol levels, Mazze said.

"If we can repeat what we've done in Nanjing," Mazze said, "we're going to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with diabetes significantly, even within five years of this program," he said.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335

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