Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith today announced more than $5.7 million in funding for research into diabetes. The funding has the potential to radically transform delivery of health care to hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders with diabetes or prediabetes, says Health Research Council of New Zealand Chief Executive, Professor Kath McPherson.

Three projects, all relating to the prevention and management of diabetes, have been awarded funding through a partnership initiative between the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC), Ministry of Health, and the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge.

The successful recipients include the University of Otago, Wellington, for two projects – a study into preventing type 2 diabetes by including probiotics and prebiotics in the diet – and a digital health initiative aimed at helping people prevent and manage diabetes using Melon Health’s digital health plaform.

The study on Melon’s digital health programme is being led by Professor Diana Sarfati, University of Otago, Wellington.


Six per cent of New Zealand adults have diabetes mellitus and one in four have pre-diabetes. Rates of both are rapidly increasing, and are higher among Māori and Pacific people. The proposal will test the effectivess of an innovative digital health programme desigend and developed by Melon Health, which supports prevention and self-management of pre-diabetes and diabetes. The programme is delivered via web and mobile-based platforms. It integrates with primary care providers and uses peer support, health coaches, health tracking, and tools with engaging content to drive changes in behaviour. Initial pilot results showed that more than 70 per cent of pre-diabetics had normal blood glucose levels after four months on the programme.

The project comprises a randomised controlled trial, to assess the clinical and cost effectiveness of this intervention in reversing pre-diabetes and improving self-management of diabetes, compared with usual care. We will explicitly assess the impact among Māori and Pacific people, and focus on translating findings into clinical practice.