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Professors Roy Taylor and Mike Lean awarded 2024 Rank Prize for Nutrition

Professor Roy Taylor and Professor Mike Lean have been announced as winners of the 2024 Rank Prize for Nutrition for their ground-breaking work on dietary approaches to type 2 diabetes remission, transforming the lives of thousands.

Meet the researchers

Mike Lean holds the chair of Human Nutrition, based at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, where he is also a consultant physician with NHS responsibilities, and a weekly Human Nutrition Outpatient clinic. 

Roy Taylor qualified in medicine at the University of Edinburgh and is Professor of Medicine at Newcastle University.

As co-leads of the Diabetes UK-funded DiRECT trial, their research has furthered understanding of how type 2 diabetes develops and has shown for the first time that remission from type 2 diabetes is possible for some by following a low-calorie weight management programme.

Their ground-breaking DiRECT findings inspired the NHS to roll out remission programmes, transforming services for people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Revolutionary trials

Type 2 diabetes is caused by a complex mix of multiple risk factors, and we know bodyweight can be a significant driver of type 2 for some people.

The Diabetes UK-funded Counterpoint study led by Prof Taylor in 2011 confirmed that people at high risk of type 2 diabetes had excess fat in their liver and pancreas, leading to insulin-resistance and problems with their insulin-producing beta cells.

His research found that when people with type 2 diabetes lost weight, fat was lost from the liver and pancreas, and these organs started working properly again to manage blood sugar levels. Improvement was particularly significant when people lost weight soon after they were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Prof Lean extended and validated the new clinical weight management programme to offer more effective weight loss in routine primary care.

We brought the two researchers together to design and conduct the DiRECT trial (Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial).

People with type 2 diabetes living with overweight or obesity were supported through their GP surgeries to lose weight by replacing their usual meals with nutritionally complete low-calorie ‘soups and shakes’. This was followed by continued support to re-introduce normal food and maintain weight loss.

Their impact

On average, participants lost 10% of their bodyweight at 12 months, and almost half of participants had put their type 2 diabetes into remission at one year. A quarter of participants lost 15kg or more, and of these, 86% were in remission.

More recently the teams have shown that this intervention is also successful in people with a lower body weight, and that it is effective in people of South Asian origin.

A programme based on the approach of DiRECT has been piloted by NHS England and is now being rolled out across England: the NHS Type 2 Diabetes Path to Remission Programme. Over 5,000 individuals have been offered the intervention, with early results expected in the near future.

The research of Prof Lean and Prof Taylor is making a real difference to the lives of people with type 2 diabetes, by giving them the support and services to manage their health and the opportunity of living free from type 2 diabetes.

Prof Lean said:

“My reaction to receiving news of this highly revered prize was initially astonishment, almost shock, to be included among the list of illustrious previous winners. But it is deeply satisfying to realise that people really do understand and appreciate our work.

“A clinical research career is very long, often lonely or exposed, and doubted or even scorned, as conventional beliefs are challenged. I have been fortunate to have had wonderful loyal colleagues in Glasgow and elsewhere, critical support from Diabetes UK and people living with diabetes, and a 47-year professional friendship with Roy Taylor.”

Prof Taylor said:

“I am delighted to receive this recognition on behalf of the physicists, doctors, nurses, dietitians and others who have provided fantastic team input over many years of this research thrust. The work would not have been possible without the selfless research volunteers, especially those in the initial Counterpoint study who took a leap in the dark in the interests of science.

“Without the research funding, type 2 diabetes would still be regarded as a lifelong, inevitably progressive condition — a life sentence — and hence particular thanks are due to Diabetes UK who funded most of the work, with lead-in support from The Wellcome Trust and The NovoNordisk Foundation.”

Founded in 1972 by the British industrialist and philanthropist Lord J. Arthur Rank, the prestigious Rank Prize is awarded biennially in the fields of nutrition and optoelectronics. The Prize will be awarded formally at an event in London on 1 July 2024.

Read the latest results from DiRECT that reveal that for some it is possible to stay in remission for at least five years. 

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