World class research tackling diabetes complications – by Chris Askew

This World Diabetes Day (Monday 14 November), Diabetes UK is highlighting the scale and nature of complications which can accrue in diabetes. We are using our analysis of GP patient records to highlight some staggering facts; for example daily, as a result of complications in diabetes, 20 people have lower limbs amputated, 203 experience heart failures and 78 have strokes. And the point of highlighting statistics like these, is to continue to ensure we have the resources, the knowledge and understanding, the support in place to limit complications which can be devastating and which are, to a large degree, preventable.

Future hope

But putting the spotlight in this way on diabetes also reminds us, and others, of the vital part which research plays in tackling complications. Everything we know about treating diabetes is a result of research and research is our hope for the future. Diabetes UK – thanks to the contributions of our donors and supporters – is currently investing over £2.8 million into research to treat or prevent the complications of diabetes. And we’re confident that this investment, if we can sustain and grow it (and whilst £2.8 million is a large sum, it is not nearly equal to the scale of the task), will lead to improved outcomes in managing complications. Why? Because history shows us what can be achieved.

Early breakthrough

Wind back to the late 80s (can you remember?), when Professor Roy Taylor, from Newcastle University, first trialled mobile retinopathy screening across Tyneside in the back of a converted second hand ambulance. With this proof of how cost-effective mobile screening could be, Diabetes UK funded Professor Taylor to expand his work and thanks to that initial investment, a new screening programme was eventually rolled out across the UK so that today, diabetic retinopathy is no longer the number one leading cause of preventable sight loss in the UK. Some years later, in 1998, the results of the landmark UKPDS trial, co-funded by Diabetes UK, showed that controlling blood pressure and blood glucose levels could dramatically reduce the risk of people with Type 2 diabetes developing complications in later life..


Jump forward to 2003, and the results of the Diabetes UK-funded CARDS trial – testing whether statins could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with Type 2 diabetes – was so successful that it was stopped early so that everyone could be given statins.

And looking ahead, Diabetes UK researchers at the University of Cambridge have been carrying out a trial across the globe, testing whether existing treatments for other conditions could be used to reduce the risk of kidney and cardiovascular complications in teenagers with Type 1 diabetes. We know that teens with Type 1 are particular vulnerable to this risk, and research like this could have a real impact on future lives.

Other research into diabetes complications which we’re funding include research to unpick the link between dementia and forms of diabetes, to prevent the onset of kidney disease, and to find ways to keep blood vessels healthy. Brilliant researchers are using Diabetes UK funds, to find novel and effective ways to improve treatments, catch complications as early as possible, and even prevent them from developing in the first place. To bring some of this work to life, in this video Dr Nina Petrova and Dr David Long talk of their research into the Charcot foot and kidney disease – two devastating complications of diabetes that urgently need more effective treatment approaches.


Summarised in a few lines in a blog, these achievements may seem near at hand and readily achievable. But research truly is the long game, requiring career-long investment in the very best basic and clinical researchers, mature collaborations and interactions between research leaders and their host institutes and ready access to the very latest research technologies. Thankfully, Diabetes UK has been investing in world class research for over 80 years and we work in a community of other committed funders.

But none of this investment would have been possible without our supporters and fundraisers – over the years, that’s millions of sponsored miles run, walked, cycled and swum; acres of fundraising ‘bring and buy’ sales; armies of collectors; thousands of donors and members committing regular sums monthly or annually to our work; numerous tireless fundraising groups, Tesco stores across the land raising funds and hundreds of supporters who have remembered us in their legacies.

So that’s my final thought on this World Diabetes Day – that we continue to combine our energy and our resources to fund the research of today and tomorrow; from Professor Taylor’s retinopathy research three decades ago to Dr Petrova’s work today. None of this would have been possible without our supporters; if that’s you, a big World Diabetes Day Thank You from us all and if it’s not you yet – then do consider helping us to make today’s complications a thing of the past.

Find out more about Diabetes UK and research.
Read more of our blogs on diabetes and complications.
Read more of Chris’s blogs.

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