Research and diabetes

Man with jigsaw puzzle headResearch and diabetes — an overview of investigative studies being undertaken at present, from statistical analysis to new treatments, facts and figures being unravelled around the globe.

When you’re newly diagnosed, you cling on to all news of research into a cure for diabetes. You hope that you’ll have to cope for a few years, but then you will be healed. Then you start to realise that while there are huge amounts of research out there, it means resources are spread thinly, and that medical research and development (R&D) is a very slow game. But that’s not to say that great gains are being made, and some of us are now using drugs and technology that wasn’t imagined (or was only just imagined) a decade ago.

On 20 May 2014 people with diabetes talked directly to leaders from medicine, academia and industry about how the condition affects their daily lives. The IMI-JDRF Diabetes Patient Focus Meeting was held to identify research and development gaps in the diabetes area from the perspective of patient needs and challenges.

The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is the world’s largest public-private partnership in health – a joint undertaking between the European Union and the pharmaceutical industry association EFPIA. JDRF is the leading global charity funding Type 1 diabetes research, currently sponsoring research in 17 countries. Karen Addington, Chief Executive of JDRF UK, commented on the event saying, “Research progress in Type 1 diabetes has never been faster than it is today. There are now tangible opportunities for research to transform the lives of people affected by the condition. But it is crucial that those people are placed at the heart of the research dialogue. Only by doing this can we achieve our goal of progressively removing the impact of the condition from people’s lives, until we achieve a world without Type 1 diabetes.”

IMI’s Executive Director Michel Goldman added, “This meeting will cover the whole spectrum of diabetes and go beyond the typical Type 1 and 2 classifications, to explore the commonalities between the different metabolic disorders, their causes and current therapies. The patients’ perspective is an invaluable asset in scientists’ and industry’s quest for a cure for diabetes which is at the core of IMI’s mission.”

The IMI-JDRF initiative aims to identify research & development (R&D) gaps in the diabetes area from the patient’s perspective. Discussing unmet patients’ needs will help guide decisions on future research topics on diabetes in IMI and in JDRF’s activities. IMI has already established a diabetes platform including three European diabetes projects: IMIDIA, DIRECT and SUMMIT – working together on the joint development of novel solutions for improved disease management. IMI and JDRF will publish a joint report on the event’s conclusions later in 2014.

Researcher with chemical module in handsGlobal back up

Britain’s leading diabetes charity, Diabetes UK, has welcomed the results of a new stem cell study as a breakthrough that takes us one step closer to finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes. A team of scientists at the New York Stem Cell Foundation has created insulin-producing cells using a new process, which could one day become an important part of a potential cure.  The researchers used skin cells from a woman with Type 1 diabetes to make stem cells, which have the potential to turn into any type of cell in our bodies. They then showed that they could turn these stem cell into cells that can produce insulin (also known as beta-cells). There are two critical components to a true cure for Type 1 diabetes. One is to produce insulin-producing beta cells that can be given to people with Type 1 diabetes so that they can start producing insulin. The other is to control the auto-immune response that kills insulin producing cells in people with Type 1. While this research is in very early stages, it is exciting because it proves that in principle the first component of a cure is possible.

Dr Alasdair Rankin, Director of Research for Diabetes UK, said: “This research is a real step forward in the search for a cure for Type 1 diabetes. Replacing the beta cells that are destroyed in Type 1 diabetes could one day allow people living with Type 1 diabetes to stop taking insulin which would transform their lives. Scientists around the world are searching for the best ways to produce beta cells that can be used to treat diabetes. We don’t yet know if this technique will prove to be the most suitable, but it opens the door to really exciting possibilities for the future. Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition that people have to manage 365 days a year, so many people dream of the day a cure is found. Important research like this is crucial to bringing us one step further to a cure. We will be watching the results with interest.”

Research in this area is a focus of UK biomedicine. Diabetes UK currently supports research into what makes beta cells grow and thrive, as well as research into what goes wrong with the immune system in Type 1 diabetes and how to reverse it.

Meanwhile further research by Diabetes UK has shown that more than 1 in 5 cases of Type 1 diabetes are diagnosed in people aged over 40, which is against the normally understood stereotype. The figures are based on analysis from the National Diabetes Audit data and shows that in the year 2011-2012, 8,952 people were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This included 2,035 people who were aged over 40 at the time of their diagnosis, of who more than 500 were aged over 69. Though most cases are commonly diagnosed between the ages of 10-14, Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age. The charity pointed to Home Secretary Theresa May’s Type 1 diagnosis last year as a high profile example of this.

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