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DUKPC research highlights: Days 9 and 10

Over the last two weeks, our professional conference (DUKPC) has brought us incredible developments in diabetes research. As we shut the virtual doors for another year, here are the highlights from the final few days. Our researchers announced how tarantula venom could unlock new treatments for type 2 diabetes, we learnt more about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and about barriers to type 2 prevention programmes.  

You can also catch-up on the biggest news from the rest of the conference.

The pandemic is negatively impacting young people with diabetes

Diabetes is relentless, and new research presented at DUKPC shows that the coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated the challenges faced by teenagers and young people with the condition.

Dr Cayley and researchers at King’s College London surveyed 74 people with diabetes, aged 16-23 years, to explore the impact of the pandemic on their diabetes management and emotional wellbeing, and to find out their thoughts on the future of diabetes care.

The results revealed a mix of experiences. Since the pandemic, 55% of young people said they felt well supported by their diabetes team and 35% reported they felt more confident and motivated to manage their diabetes.

But 22% reported feeling less confident or motivated, which they put down to being less physically active, disrupted diabetes routines and a lack of support. Almost two-thirds of people said the pandemic had had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing, and 31% of respondents felt more negatively about their diabetes and future health.

Looking to the future, most young people (69%) reporting wanting to get back to face-to-face care. As we move ahead, it’s critical that changes in diabetes care are informed by the views of teenagers and young people with diabetes, to ensure that the support they receive empowers them to live well with diabetes.

Tarantula venom as a new treatment for type 2 diabetes

New research we funded, presented today at DUKPC, has identified that molecules in tarantula venom could unlock new treatments for people living with type 2 diabetes.

The team of researchers led by Professor Nigel Irwin at Ulster University previously uncovered that the venom of the Mexican blonde tarantula can increase insulin production and lower blood sugar levels, but why this happens has not been clear until now. These new findings, by PhD student Aimee Coulter Parkhill, have pinpointed that a molecule called ΔTRTX-Ac1 could hold the key.

The researchers developed a synthetic version of ΔTRTX-Ac1 and studied its effects on insulin-producing beta cells they’d grown in the lab. They found that the venom molecule more than doubled the amount of insulin cells the lab produced and also improved beta cell growth. They think the molecule may be controlling entry point on the surface of beta cells, acting as the gatekeeper that allows other molecules to flow in and out of the cells and helping them to work better.

Next, our researchers found that, when given to mice, ΔTRTX-Ac1 steadily reduced blood sugar levels over the course of an hour. This suggests the venom molecule is able to ramp up insulin release in mice, just like they saw in cells in the lab. They also showed that ΔTRTX-Ac1 reduced food intake in mice, suggesting it may act to reduce appetite and could potentially hold benefits for weight loss.

This is very early-stage research, but the findings so far all show the potential of tarantula venom molecules as a new and improved treatment for type 2 diabetes. As a next step, our researchers will investigate how Δ-TRTX-Ac1 interacts with current type 2 diabetes medications, and unpick how it works to lower blood sugar levels.

More effective medications could ultimately mean better care for people with type 2 diabetes, improving their health and potentially reducing the risk of diabetes-related complications in the future.

Our PhD student, Aimee Coulter Parkhill, said:

“Tarantula venom contains millions of biologically active molecules that may have therapeutic potential. This research highlights one specific molecule from the venom of the Mexican Blonde tarantula which shows promise in treating diabetes. We are excited to follow up on our pilot studies to understand how ΔTRTX-Ac1 could in future help people living with type 2 diabetes.”

Understanding barriers to type 2 prevention programmes

We’re working together with NHS England and Public Health England to provide Healthier You NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme (NDPP), the first national programme to help those who are at high risk of type 2 diabetes. The programme gives people personalised support to help them achieve a healthy weight, improve their diet and become more physically active, which together have been shown to reduce the risk of developing the condition.

Not everyone who is referred to the NDPP will choose to take part or complete it. Researchers at Staffordshire University studied 3,756 people at high risk of type 2 diabetes to explore possible barriers. Their findings reveal that psychological factors, including someone’s beliefs about type 2 diabetes and their own ability to make positive changes, can influence uptake and completion of the programme.

Understanding the obstacles people face when engaging with diabetes prevention programmes will help improve these services, so that many more people at risk get the support they need, and more cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented.

You can use our Know Your Risk tool to find out your risk of type 2 diabetes.

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