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PANDA Research Project 

Multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral research; essentially, a collaborative team approach to investigations; is a growing phenomenon on campuses across the country. The PANDA Project is an excellent example of this approach, involving two cities, four faculties, five departments, and fourteen researchers in Alberta.

PANDA Overview

PANDA is an acronym for Physical Activity and Nutrition for Diabetes in Alberta. Its full project title is "Practical behavioural modifications for type 2 diabetes treatment: Physical Activity and Nutrition for Diabetes in Alberta." Researchers from

  • Physical Education
  • Physiology
  • Medicine
  • Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science
  • Rural Economy

are engaged in studies contributing to the fundamental objective – a practical ‘toolbox’ of physical activity and diet that those with Type 2 Diabetes will adhere to.

The Principal Investigator is Dr. Catherine Chan, Professor in Physiology and in Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Sciences. Co-Principal Investigators include

  • Dr. Ron Plotnikoff, Professor of Physical Education and in the Centre for Health Promotion Studies;
  • Dr. Rhonda Bell, Associate Professor of Foods and Nutrition; and
  • Dr. Ron Sigal, Associate Professor of Medicine, Kinesiology, Cardiac Sciences and Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary.

The research is funded jointly by the University (Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry) and Alberta Health Services, Capital Health Region.

This component of the project has a 3 year time frame. Subsequent research will test the effectiveness of PANDA (Physical Activity and Nutrition for Diabetes in Alberta) in improving

  • blood sugar control
  • reducing diabetic complications
  • improving quality of life for Albertans living with the disease

The scope of the project is provincial (focusing upon Edmonton and Calgary) and will involve research on Alberta food products (modifications to render them more diabetic-friendly), assessing cost-friendly foods that are appropriate and accessible for those with diabetes, developing a nutritional guideline (an Alberta Diet) that can be easily used by those with diabetes (i.e. available, accessible, adequate, acceptable) and a physical activity "toolbox" suitable for those with diabetes.

One focus of the study will involve working with those with diabetes and with diabetes educators to find out what physical activities are appropriate, accessible, adequate and available and activities that those with diabetes will engage in on a regular basis. The kinds of physical activity those with Type 2 Diabetes tend to want to do, and continue to do, along with tools to encourage adherence and those things that act as barriers to exercise adherence will be considered and studied. From the findings of this focus, a physical activity "toolbox" will be pilot-tested. This focus will also include finding out which foods meet the criterion mentioned previously.

A prototype Alberta Diet will be developed around Alberta crops and foodstuffs. A nutrition intervention will then be conducted and nutritional intake and dietary patterns will be assessed. This approach will allow the investigators to explore the potential for a novel dietary feedback and monitoring tool.

Researchers in agriculture are engaged in ongoing research testing local crops (i.e. legumes, peas, berries, canola oil, etc.) for their effect on chronic disease, and in modification of crop production or processing methods to increase this effect.
Rural economists will ascertain the cost versus the benefit of adopting the Alberta Diet. Their research will look at financial as well as quality of life benefits and costs, to the individual with Type 2 Diabetes, and to their family.

Ongoing research investigating genetic and dietary effects at the cellular level is carried out by a number of investigators on the team.

PANDA's approach to finding measures to assist people with diabetes to live fuller lives is innovative in its broad range of method. Complex and ambitious, it is these inter-disciplinary collaborative research projects that put research in, as Dr. Gill of the Alberta Diabetes Institute states, the best possible position to make a real difference for people living with diabetes.

Funded jointly by the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry and Alberta Health Service, Capital Health Region.