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Research news from the EASD: Living better lives with diabetes


The annual European Associate for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) conference brings together researchers from all over the world. But this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the conference went virtual. 

Thousands of researchers gathered in the online conference hall to share the latest in diabetes research. And over the next few weeks, we will be sharing some of the exciting new findings presented at the conference. In this article, we focus on the research that will help people with diabetes to live better, more confident lives, which is a key focus in our new strategy.

Making virtual a reality

This year, diabetes care has been very different, and researchers wanted to learn how people living with diabetes have been affected. A global survey of more than 7,000 people with type 1 diabetes from 89 countries shows that 75% of people who have moved to virtual check-ups with their doctors because of the coronavirus pandemic would like to continue with these after the pandemic ends.

Globally, 30% reported that the pandemic had affected their healthcare access due to cancelled physical appointments. A third (32%) reported no fundamental change in their medical appointments during this period, and 9% said that they hadn’t had any contact from their doctors over the duration of the study.

The study, by Dr Sam Scott and Prof Christoph Stettler from University of Bern, will be published in Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism. The results from this real-time worldwide survey demonstrate that many people living with type 1 diabetes have rapidly adopted and adapted to telemedicine. It also suggests there is appetite for some elements of diabetes care to be conducted remotely, beyond the pandemic.

Technology could also be the answer to encouraging more people with type 2 to take part in structured education programmes. We know education courses can be transformative, giving people the skills and confidence to manage their diabetes.

But the UK National Diabetes Audit revealed that less than 10% of people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes attend a diabetes structured education (DSE) course, despite over three quarters of them being offered a place. Even lower attendance rates were seen in people aged over 65, or who speak English as a second language. So researchers wanted to know if making courses digital could help to remove some of the barriers to attending.

A study presented by Lucy Jones from Oviva found that by offering a 100% remote digitally-enabled DSE programme, attendance increased to over 70%. In people over 65 and people speaking English as a second language, attendance was 72% and 80% respectively.

Ensuring that everyone has access to the education and the information they need is a key part of helping people live better, more confident lives with diabetes, so it’s key that new approaches to healthcare are explored, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Keeping an eye on blood sugar

Dr. Masakazu Aihara and his team at the University of Tokyo presented their work looking at ways to use the tears of people with diabetes to monitor their blood glucose (sugar) levels. This would offer an alternative to more invasive methods that rely on blood testing such as finger pick tests and continuous glucose monitors.

Dr Aihara’s team looked at the levels of glycoalbumin, a protein from the liver that can be used to measure levels of sugar in the blood over the past three weeks, in the tears of 99 people with diabetes. They found that glycoalbumin levels measured from tears is incredibly similar to measurements taken from the blood. 

Finding new and innovative ways of measuring glucose levels – such as through tears – is an exciting prospect, but this research is at an early stage and there’s a lot more work to do to turn these findings into a system that people with diabetes can use in their day-to-day lives. But we hope in the future, research like this could give people with diabetes more choice on how they monitor their condition.

The cycle-path to a healthier heart?

Getting active is so important for people with diabetes, but are there types of exercise that are better than others? New research presented by Dr. Mathias Ried-Larsen from the Centre for Physical Activity Research in Copenhagen suggested that cycling is associated with reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) in people living with diabetes. 

The researchers looked at over 5,500 people living with diabetes and tracked rates of CVD and cycling over 13 years. They found that people who cycled regularly were at least a quarter less likely to die from CVD, and that even small amounts of cycling were beneficial. Getting more active can be challenging, especially when living with diabetes, but the health benefits can be huge even with small changes. Findings like these, which will be published in Diabetologia, remind us that cycling, whether that’s for fun or to get from A to B, is one of the ways we can add more exercise into our days and improve our health.

This year has presented an enormous challenge for people living with diabetes, and it’s been harder than ever to live well with your condition. That’s why research like this is so crucial. Whether using technology to facilitate diabetes healthcare or education, new ways to monitor blood sugar or new ways to keep active, it’s key that we invest in research that gives everyone the opportunity to live well with their condition.

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