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We’re supporting new research to understand links between Covid-19, diabetes and heart disease

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Last year, the Diabetes Data Science Catalyst launched to advance data research into heart disease and diabetes. Now, the first projects of the initiative are getting off the ground.

Together with the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Data Science Centre at Health Data Research UK, we're investing almost £100,000 into two innovative research projects that will use the power of data to investigate the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on people living with diabetes.

COVID-19 and the links between type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease

People with type 2 diabetes are more likely to become seriously ill or develop new health issues if they get COVID-19, than people without diabetes. Research also suggests that COVID-19 can lead to worse outcomes in people with a recent diagnosis of cardiovascular disease.

With new funding, researchers at the University of Cambridge, led by Dr Stephen Kaptoge, want to specifically understand whether COVID-19 has an impact on the risk of cardiovascular disease in people living with type 2 diabetes.

They also want to investigate whether other factors, such as age, sex, and ethnicity impact risk. They’ll do this by analysing securely-held data from big health databases in the UK to uncover any missing links.

These insights could fill in important gaps in our knowledge about the relationships between COVID-19, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.

In turn, this will help to work out what needs to be done to improve care and help people with type 2 and COVID-19 to reduce their risk of heart disease.

How was gestational diabetes care affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can happen during pregnancy. It can lead to complications during birth and can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes for both mother and baby in later in life.

The COVID-19 pandemic meant that healthcare workers had to completely rethink their approach to screening for and managing gestational diabetes. Face-to-face appointments had to be pared back, and the way treatment decisions were made changed.

Led by Professor Rebecca Reynolds, a team of researchers at the University of Edinburgh have been awarded funding to understand how these changes in care affected rates of gestational diabetes, and how pregnancies and births were impacted.

The team will study data from healthcare appointments. These data are held in a Trusted Research Environment and accessed safely and securely by approved researchers through the BHF Data Science Centre.

The team particularly interested in exploring the impact for people from ethnic minority backgrounds and people experiencing deprivation, as studies have found that there are unfair inequalities around care and support.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the findings from the team’s work could arm us with a better understanding of how we can support women with gestational diabetes during pregnancy and after birth.

The study could also help us to find those at the highest risk of poorer outcomes, helping everyone with gestational diabetes to access the care they deserve.

BHF Data Science Centre Associate Director and lead for the Diabetes Data Science Catalyst, Professor Ewan Pearson, said:

"Diabetes and heart disease share common risk factors, but much remains unknown about the effects of the pandemic on patients living with these conditions. Research supported by this funding will inform policy, and ultimately, benefit patients and future patients."

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research at Diabetes UK said:

"We are delighted to be co-funding the first data science exemplar projects in partnership with the British Heart Foundation Data Science Centre. Cardiovascular disease is among the leading causes of death in people with diabetes and is strongly associated with health inequalities.

"These new, cutting-edge projects funded by the Diabetes Data Science Catalyst initiative will further our understanding of the impact of the pandemic, providing vital information about ways to improve health outcomes for people with diabetes and tackle inequalities that persist in diabetes care."

The Diabates Data Science Catalyst

People living with diabetes have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, like heart attack and stroke. So we invested £300,000 into the Diabetes Data Science Catalyst. It aims to enable researchers to harness the power of big data to better understand the links between diabetes and heart disease, and make discoveries that could improve lives for people with diabetes.

The Catalyst is part of the BHF Data Science Centre, which was set up in 2020 with an investment of £10 million from the British Heart Foundation and established by Health Data Research UK.

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