The University of Birmingham has announced the launch of five new major studies aimed at improving the prevention, treatment and management of type 1 diabetes – with a particular focus on children and young adults.
The new studies include:
- The ELSA Study: Led by Professor Parth Narendran, the ELSA Study (EarLy Surveillance for Autoimmune diabetes) will see researchers interviewing families, doctors, nurses and schools, to determine if, and how, the UK should develop a testing and monitoring programme that will identify children at risk of type 1 diabetes. The ELSA Study is being funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), and is being carried out in collaboration with Birmingham Health Partners, Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and the Department of Health and Social Care, as well as the Universities of Cardiff, Warwick, Oxford and Imperial College London.
- Diabetes and health inequalities: Through £1.9m funding from NIHR, Professor Tim Barrett’s team will ask children and young people with diabetes and their families from poorer and/ or ethnic minority backgrounds how language issues, feelings, income, living conditions and food availability affect how they manage diabetes. They will identify new ways to make diabetes management easier and more successful, and will test these systems in trials involving NHS hospitals.
- Immunotherapies for diabetes: The greatest barrier to the development of specific immunotherapies for type 1 diabetes is that we currently do not understand the mechanism of how immunotherapies switch off the immune response to our own proteins. A clinical study led by Professor David Wraith, and funded by $735,000 from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, will be carried out in collaboration with Cardiff University. It will test a new peptide developed by the University of Birmingham, work which was also funded by the Helmsley Charitable Trust with a $610,000 grant. The new peptide has the potential to control the T-cell immune response in people who are either at risk of developing type 1 diabetes or are newly diagnosed. In this study, the team will assess the changes in immune cells from the site of injection, the draining lymph nodes and peripheral blood. This will be the first in-depth analysis of the molecular changes responsible for antigen-specific immunotherapy in type 1 diabetes.
- Sight loss and diabetes: Two separate projects led by Dr Jose Romero Hombrebueno will explore the function of membrane-bound cell organelles, known as mitochondria, which generate most of the chemical energy needed to power the cell's biochemical reactions. The researchers will examine the role of mitochondrial function in both the development of multiple health conditions as the consequence of type 1 diabetes, and also the role it plays in developing diabetic retinopathy - an eye condition that can cause sight loss and blindness in people who have diabetes. The latter research is being funded by Diabetes UK, while the former is being funded by the European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes.
- Exercise and type 1 diabetes: Led by Dr Alex Wadley and funded by the Rosetrees Trust, this research will examine how a home-based exercise programme impacts autoimmunity in patients with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes. The project will evaluate whether exercise slows the progression of type 1 diabetes by altering the number and activity of white blood cells in the circulation that have the potential to attach to, enter and degrade the pancreas. Although evidence supports a role for exercise to promote general health and wellbeing in patients with type 1 diabetes, this project aims to provide novel evidence that exercise can directly slow the progression of the disease upon diagnosis.
Parth Narendran, Professor of Diabetes Medicine at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy, said: “The UK has one of the highest incidences of type 1 diabetes in the developed world, at 25 per 100,000 per year, and type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in children. It occurs when cells that make insulin don’t work as they should, and people with the condition have to self-inject insulin for their entire lives.
"Studies have recently shown that some medicines can safely delay people getting type 1 diabetes. Some countries, such as the US and Australia, already have surveillance systems to identify people at risk of developing type 1 diabetes and to offer them participation in prevention trials and also to reduce their chances of developing type 1 diabetes as an unexpected emergency. The UK does not have such a system in place.
"Until now, nobody in the UK has explored whether parents and children would welcome such a system, and how it would work. Through ELSA we will potentially be able to change NHS healthcare policy which would result in the early detection and prevention of this condition and its associated long-term complications.”
Timothy Barrett, Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences, said: “Diabetes causes high blood sugar levels, which can lead to eye and kidney damage if the condition is not well managed. We know that better sugar control reduces this risk, however, children with diabetes from poorer and/ or ethnic minority groups, often have worse sugar control, while these complications often develop when they are young adults who are working and starting families.
"There is little evidence to show any previous interventions have helped in reducing health inequalities for children with diabetes in different groups. We will work with young people, their families, and diabetes clinicians to develop an action plan that families feel comfortable with and that will support them to improve their self-management.”
Studies have shown that immunotherapies could play a vital role in treating type 1 diabetes, and it’s essential that we can develop new drugs that could specifically target cells that cause the body’s immune response to behave the wrong way in a person with type 1 diabetes. Our project will help improve our understanding of how the human body’s immune system responds to therapies, which in turn will help the development of new treatments.Professor David Wraith, Director of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy
Dr Jose Romero Hombrebueno, Hale-Rudd Lecturer in Experimental Ophthalmology at the University of Birmingham's Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, said: “It is estimated that 224 million people will have diabetic retinopathy and 70 million will have sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy by 2040. Nearly 90-95% of patients with type 1 diabetes and 78% with type 2 diabetes are expected to develop minimal retinal damage after having diabetes for more than 15 years. Therefore it’s essential that we carry our research that will help advance our knowledge of the underlying causes and potential ways to treat or prevent vision loss in those with diabetes.”
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Dr Alex Wadley, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, said: “It’s estimated that around 70% of patients with type 1 diabetes do not meet the current recommended exercise guidelines of 150 minutes per week. We are using a home-based exercise programme, which has proven highly popular and safe for individuals with type 1 diabetes, to evaluate how regular exercise impacts the immune system of newly diagnosed patients.
"Type 1 diabetes is a disease where the body’s own white blood cells attack the pancreas and stop insulin production, resulting in high blood sugar. Regular participation in exercise is key to supporting health and wellbeing in people with type 1 diabetes, but we don’t know how exercise directly impacts these white blood cells that do the damage. With limited therapies available for patients currently, we hope that our findings can promote the use of exercise as an important lifestyle choice for patients and impact standard treatment approaches for type 1 diabetes nationally.’’