All research breakthroughs can bring real hope – by Faye Riley

Over the past week you may have heard us shouting about a Type 2 diabetes research breakthrough. This news was all about a landmark study, called DiRECT, which found that a new weight management programme could help people put their Type 2 diabetes into remission. You can read more about these findings here.

I work in the research team at Diabetes UK and this announcement was a really exciting moment for us. The findings from DiRECT are hugely promising and could transform the way Type 2 diabetes is treated in the future.

But we understand this news isn’t relevant to everyone. If, like me, you’re living with Type 1 diabetes – you’d probably prefer the headlines to be about a Type 1 breakthrough. But I still think this Type 2 news is fantastic, ground-breaking stuff.

Why is DiRECT important?

Type 2 diabetes is complex. There are lots of risk factors involved in this condition, but we know that obesity and weight gain are the most important.

We’d already seen from some small earlier studies that weight loss through a low-calorie diet could put Type 2 diabetes into remission in some people.

What we didn’t know was if this could have any lasting benefit – could people stay in remission? Or if this could work in a real-life setting. We also needed to test this approach in a larger amount of people in a clinical trial. This is when researchers compare a group of people receiving a new treatment to people getting the best diabetes care currently available, so they can see which has the best outcome.

And DiRECT is helping us work all this out. When the study’s finished we hope it will give the NHS the evidence it needs to decide if a treatment of this kind should be offered in the future.

What does this mean for people living with Type 1 diabetes?

In a nutshell, not a lot. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that make insulin. A diet or lifestyle based treatment isn’t going to help my pancreas start working again.

But I think this Type 2 remission news is an amazing example of the positive impact research can have. Whatever your experience of diabetes, breakthroughs like this bring real hope for the future and show the progress we’re making in achieving our vital mission: a world where diabetes can do no harm.

Filling research gaps

All this DiRECT buzz doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten about Type 1.

A few years ago we recognised there was a specific gap in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes research that needed filling. So we asked the research community to work together and come up with innovative projects in Type 1 immunotherapy and Type 2 remission. This is known as a strategic call.

From this, we funded two large, really important projects. On the Type 2 side there was DiRECT, which we invested £2.5 million in.

Dr Tim Tree is one of the researchers part of the Immunotherapy Consortium

Then for Type 1, we committed £2.8 million to the Type 1 diabetes Immunotherapy Consortium (in partnership with JDRF and Tesco). The consortium brings together researchers across the UK to develop and test new Type 1 diabetes immunotherapies, while supporting the recruitment of people with Type 1 to important clinical trials.

This research is trying to find new treatments that change the behaviour of the immune system, to help preserve insulin-producing cells. In the longer term, this could help scientists create a vaccine to prevent Type 1 diabetes entirely.

This research is still underway and in an earlier stage than DiRECT. Scientists are coming up with pioneering treatments in their labs. Then they test if the new treatments are safe in humans, and run clinical trials to see if they actually work. Which means it’ll take a little longer until we see breakthroughs splashed across the front pages.

Other Type 1 highlights

But great progress is being made with the Type 1 diabetes research we’re funding all across the UK. A couple of weeks ago we brought you some news about a study which is the first to use a new genetic technique to find Type 1 diabetes in adults.

Using key Type 1 diabetes genes to calculate each person’s risk of having the condition, scientists found that a diagnosis of Type 1 is almost equally common in those over the age of 30 as in younger people. This is really important information that could help adults with Type 1 diabetes get the right diagnosis.

Then we’ve got a bunch of other projects you can explore. Professor Noel Morgan, in Exeter, is studying the immune attack in Type 1 diabetes. Professor James Shaw, in Newcastle, is working on a new approach to improve islet cell transplants to treat Type 1 diabetes. Professor Helen Colhoun, in Edinburgh, is looking for specific genes involved in Type 1 diabetes and its complications, to help develop new therapies. And that’s only scratching the surface.

You can search all the research projects we’re currently funding, which you can filter by type of diabetes if you’re interested in just Type 1 or Type 2. Plus we’re doing lots looking into diabetes-related complications, which would benefit people living with all types of diabetes.

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