World Diabetes Day takes place annually on November 14, and aims to promote a global, co-ordinated effort to tackle the growing threat of diabetes.
Key facts: Diabetes
- As of 2014, the number of people suffering from diabetes worldwide stands at over 400 million.
- There are two main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 is an autoimmune condition whereby the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. It is often inherited.
- Type 2 diabetes is caused when the body’s cells stop reacting to insulin. The symptoms can be similar to Type 1 but often present themselves less acutely.
- Diabetes is a growing epidemic; it is estimated that there will be over 600 million people living with diabetes by 2040.
- This increase can be attributed in part to the modern shift towards a more sedentary lifestyle; one in four British adults are now obese.
- The cost of diabetes is equivalent to 10% of the entire NHS budget for England and Wales, or £25,000 per minute.
We spoke to Professor Guy Rutter from the Department of Medicine about what he considers to be the most pressing questions relating to diabetes research, and how Imperial is working to answer them.
"Imperial is currently very active in the field of diabetes genetics; we’re interested in looking at what genetic reasons there could be as to why some people are predisposed to developing diabetes. This involves trying to identify the key genes that are implicated, and how they work. Most of the genes in question will affect the amount of insulin that the body can produce; therefore, it’s important to examine and assess the biology of the cells. This then provides the foundations for identifying new drug targets in collaboration with pharmaceutical companies."
"Specifically, we're interested in looking at what happens to the insulin-secreting (beta) cells: do they become “immature” or “blind”, so to speak, in that they cannot not see a rise in blood sugar levels?"
"Much of my research focuses on why beta cells fail, and also what other tissues in the body are involved systemically in sending signals to them. We recently published a paper in Cell Metabolism, which mapped the way in which beta cells arrange themselves into islets. We found hub cells within these islets, which essentially control insulin release by acting as pacemakers. The failure of these hub cells may therefore contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes."
"I work as part of the Pancreatic Islet Biology and Diabetes Consortium, which is formed of principal investigators from across the College undertaking multidisciplinary research into diabetes. In addition to biological (both systems and cellular) and genetic approaches, we’re also looking at developing new technologies related to gene editing and glucose sensing."
"Diabetes research is relatively underfunded, given the huge impact it has at both an individual and economic level. It causes a wide range of complications in patients – notably stroke, kidney failure, blindness, amputation – and as a result it consumes a substantial proportion of the NHS budget."
"Any publicity generated by awareness-raising incentives such as World Diabetes Day is beneficial. In my experience, people don’t take diabetes seriously enough. At an individual level, it’s a horrible disease and this isn’t widely acknowledged; I was really struck by the recent BBC Panorama documentary on diabetes, despite having worked in this field for years."
For further information on World Diabetes Day, please visit the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) website.
To find out more about Professor Rutter's research and related projects, visit Pancreatic Islet Biology and Diabetes Consortium website.
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