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The biggest diabetes research stories of 2022

2022 has been a big year for diabetes research, filled with historic moments and world-firsts. Here we take a look back at some of the incredible progress Diabetes UK-funded scientists and diabetes researchers across the globe have been behind this year. 

Scientist looking at a microscope slide in the lab.

First, we’ll take a look at what’s happened in the world of type 1 diabetes research. 

Type 1 diabetes 

A game-changing partnership to lead the race towards a type 1 cure 

In April we announced a new partnership with JDRF and the Steve Morgan Foundation, following the Foundation’s incredible £50 million donation. 

The single largest ever gift to type 1 diabetes research in the UK is funding the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge. This will see us bring together science dream teams to work on bigger and bolder ideas in three areas that hold the greatest potential to transform type 1 treatments and lives.  

  • Treatments to replace or rescue insulin-making beta cells in the pancreas. 
  • Treatments to stop the immune system’s attack that destroys insulin-making beta cells.
  • Next generation insulins, such as those that respond to changing blood sugar levels.  

In 2023, the first Grand Challenge projects will be getting underway, and you can stay up to date with all the news on the newly launched Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge website

UK’s first ever type 1 screening programme 

On World Diabetes Day, we announced the launch of the UK’s first ever trial screening programme to identify children who have a high risk of developing type 1 diabetes in their lifetime. 

The ELSA study will screen children for signals that can be detected in the blood that indicate the immune system has started to prepare an attack on the pancreas. The signals can appear years, or sometimes decades, before people begin to experience any symptoms and receive a type 1 diagnosis.  

ELSA will help our researchers figure out how a widespread screening programme for type 1 diabetes would best be rolled out in the UK. Screening has the potential to revolutionise the way we identify and treat type 1 diabetes. 

If you have a child aged 3-13 years, find out more about taking part. 

US approves first drug to delay type 1 diabetes 

Just days after we launched ELSA, the first-ever immunotherapy drug was approved for use in the U.S, to hold off the development of type 1 diabetes in people at high risk of the condition. 

The drug called teplizumab, or Tzield, works to weaken the advancing immune attack and help insulin-making beta cells to survive for longer, delaying the start of type 1 diabetes. 

The approval of teplizumab in the US was perfectly in sync with the launch of our ELSA study. Without screening programmes, it would be impossible to identify and treat those at risk of type 1 who could benefit from immunotherapies.  

Teplizumab is currently being reviewed for use in the UK, and together with screening programmes, could open the door to a new era in type 1 diabetes treatment. 

New findings on FLASH 

Our researchers at the University of Manchester led a clinical trial to investigate the impact of second-generation Flash (FreeStyle Libre 2) on blood sugar levels and quality of life for people living with type 1 diabetes. They found that Flash not only helped people to reduce their average blood sugar levels and spend time in range, but it also helped to reduce some of the day-in day-out burden of living with type 1 diabetes. 

The findings highlight how crucial it is for everyone who could benefit from this technology to have access to it. 

AI helps to diagnose type 1 sooner 

With our funding, Dr Julia Townson and her team used artificial intelligence and electronic health records from over 1 million children to develop a predictive tool that could detect patterns that flag cases of potential undiagnosed type 1 diabetes in children.  

They found the tool successfully identified 75% of children who would go on to develop type 1 in the following 90 days, which could help them to get a diagnosis, and started on life-saving insulin, sooner.  

It’s a promising step forward, which could lead to the widespread use of this tool in GPs in the future. This could help more children get an accurate and rapid diagnosis and have the best possible start to life with type 1 diabetes. 

Type 2 diabetes 

It has also been a jam-packed year for progress in the world of type 2 diabetes research. 

Unlocking the genes for fat storage 

At the beginning of the year, our researchers at the Universities of Brunel and Exeter discovered that the genes which control where our body fat is stored play a direct role in causing type 2 diabetes.  

The team studied information from around 500,000 people and found that some people have genes that mean they store higher levels of fat everywhere, including under the skin, liver and pancreas. This is linked to a higher risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes. While others have genes that mean they have higher fat under the skin but lower liver fat, and therefore, a lower risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes. 

This work is an exciting step forward in helping us to understand more about the underlying biology of type 2 diabetes and why the risk of developing type 2 can vary so much between people of similar bodyweights. 

Remission possible for more people 

Earlier this year, Professor Roy Taylor announced new findings from his Diabetes UK-funded project, called ReTUNE, a world-first study into type 2 diabetes remission in people with lower body weights. 

After losing weight following a low-calorie diet programme, 70% of participants went into remission. 

The findings showed for the first time that people with type 2 diabetes and lower body weights can be supported to put their type 2 into remission through a structured low-calorie diet programme. And that the key to this is losing harmful fat from the liver and pancreas.  

This work could help to make sure many more people have the chance to put their type 2 diabetes into remission. 

A NewDAWN for remission 

This year we joined forces with the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to fund NewDAWN, a £2.2 million project to help give more people the chance of going into remission. 

The project is aiming to create a brand-new, national NHS support service for people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and living with overweight or obesity. The service will allow people to try out different weight loss programmes to find the one that’s right for them, giving everyone the best chance of remission. 

Insomnia found to play a role in type 2 

Earlier this year, our researchers at the University of Bristol, and supported by the universities of Manchester, Exeter and Harvard revealed that treating insomnia could help to prevent or treat type 2 diabetes, by helping to combat higher blood sugars.  

The team studied the sleep behaviours and blood sugar levels of 337,000 people and found that people who frequently find it hard to get to sleep or stay asleep had higher blood sugar levels than people without these difficulties.  

These findings are helping us to understand how sleep problems can affect the development of type 2 diabetes, but we need to know more about what’s going on inside the body before this work could open up new ways to treat or manage the condition. 

New drugs to treat and prevent type 2 getting closer 

Innovative new types of drugs, called GLP-1 receptor agonists, were approved in the US this year to help people living with type 2 diabetes to manage their blood sugar levels.  

The medications work by mimicking hormones that tell our bodies to release insulin and tell our brains when we are full. 

In 2022, we also heard promising results from clinical trials showing that these medications also worked to help people living with obesity to lose weight. The medications aren’t yet approved to treat obesity. But we know that living obesity or overweight is an important risk factor for type 2 diabetes, so with further research they could offer new and improved ways to both treat and prevent type 2 diabetes.  

It’s thanks to your support and generosity throughout 2022 that this amazing progress has been possible. Our scientists simply couldn’t make breakthroughs without you. 

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