Adam Rollo, a PhD student funded by Diabetes UK, shares his experience at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference and his hopes for his research in to diabetic eye complications.
At the end of March, this year, I was privileged to attend my first ever Diabetes UK Professional Conference (DUKPC) – this included presenting my research into diabetic eye complications to a wide audience of people for the very first time. For my research project, I am investigating how certain chemicals in the eyes of people with diabetes can make blood vessels in the eye leak, sometimes leading to vision problems. So far, we have identified four particularly strong chemicals and we’ve found several drugs that can block these. While we have managed to block the signals created by these chemicals, we still have a lot of work on our hands to test how much the drugs actually decrease the leakiness of the blood vessels.
It was fascinating to look at some of the ground-breaking research carried out by other teams of scientists across the world – often in areas very different from my own. While we’re all under the umbrella of diabetes research, the gap between the lab methods we all use and our key interests couldn’t be greater. I’m a pharmacologist and I’m interested in the way drugs can be used to treat disease, whereas some diabetes researchers are geneticists who want to understand how genes can make some people more likely to get diabetes. Others are nutritionists who want to see how different diets can improve the health of people with diabetes.
Apart from the opportunity to share my research, I thoroughly enjoyed attending other talks during the conference – especially some of those focused on the more clinical side of diabetes. As a scientist based in the lab, it’s easy to get lost in that scientific bubble, often not thinking about the sheer level of thought that goes into patient care. It was also interesting to educate myself on some of the more sociological aspects that face people with diabetes, especially to do with social stigma and health inequalities. This has made me much more conscious of the changes we all need to make, as a society, to tackle these injustices and improve the quality of life for the millions of people currently living with diabetes across the globe.
Making a difference
As a scientist, one of the things that interests me about diabetes is the way it affects people in extremely different ways. Some people with diabetes will go on to develop kidney complications, while others will develop complications with their heart and blood vessels. Some will experience few or no complications at all. Research into what causes these complications is important for the development of new treatments. It is my hope that someday, my research will have a positive influence on the quality of life of people living with diabetic eye complications. Vision loss is one of the most common complications in people living with long-term diabetes, and we’re only just beginning to uncover some of the key mechanisms that lead to damage in the eye. I feel proud to be specialising in diabetes research as I feel it’s an underfunded area of biomedical research, especially when compared to health conditions like cancer or heart disease.
My name is Adam Rollo and I am a pharmacologist specialising in diabetes, with particular interest in the diabetic eye. I have been interested in the biology of diabetes since my undergraduate study, which led me to carry out a Master of Research degree at the University of Glasgow, researching how mutations to a blood vessel gene – known as “Col4a1” - affect glucose and insulin metabolism in diabetes. Following this, I wanted to continue research, focusing on how diabetes affects blood vessels. This led me to start my current PhD project in Belfast, under the supervision of Professor Tim Curtis. Outside of the lab, I enjoy going to gigs, cooking, going down the pub, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) reading about science!