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Avoiding serious long-term illnesses in Type 2 diabetes

Project summary

Glycaemia and chronic disease: harnessing UK Biobank and eHealth linkage to quantify risks, explore mechanisms and determine treatment impacts

There are still many unanswered questions in Type 2 diabetes. How do blood glucose levels change as diabetes progresses and why are women and ethnic minorities with diabetes more susceptible to heart disease? Professor Nishi Chaturvedi will be using data from the UK Biobank to tackle these questions. She hopes her research could lead to improved diagnosis and personalised treatments, and could also help people with Type 2 diabetes to avoid complications and other long-term illnesses.

Background to research

Type 2 diabetes can be diagnosed by measuring HbA1c (modified haemoglobin A1c) levels. Haemoglobin is a molecule in the blood that carries oxygen around the body. It is modified when it meets glucose molecules. If blood glucose levels are high, haemoglobin becomes more modified. That’s why HbA1c is used as a measure for blood glucose levels.

But we still don’t know how HbA1c changes as Type 2 diabetes progresses. We also know that HbA1c may be different depending on your gender and ethnicity, but current guidelines for diagnosis don’t take this into account.

We need to better understand the link between HbA1c and the duration of Type 2 diabetes, gender and ethnicity, so we can improve diagnosis.

Some people with diabetes may also be at a higher risk of other long-term conditions, such as dementia and certain cancers. It’s important to know whether we can predict this risk by looking at their HbA1c levels.

Research aims

Professor Chaturvedi wants to better understand HbA1c in Type 2 diabetes. To do so, she’s using data from the UK Biobank: one of the largest health studies in the world, co-funded by Diabetes UK. It collects biological samples (like blood and saliva) and other measurements (including weight, height, and blood pressure) from over 500,000 volunteers in the UK in order to follow their health.

Professor Chaturvedi and her team will look at whether people with different HbA1c levels are more likely to develop serious long-term conditions, such as heart disease, dementia or cancer.

They’ll also use the UK Biobank data to better understand how the risk of Type 2 diabetes and its complications changes depending on gender, ethnicity and other factors. They hope it might be possible to predict these risks by looking at the HbA1c levels.

Finally, they want to find new treatment strategies for those at higher risk of serious long-term conditions.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

We’re committed to finding better ways to treat Type 2 diabetes and avoid complications. This project will provide important insight into how we can make Type 2 diabetes treatments more personalised, and how we can use existing measurements to catch complications early.

This research is jointly funded with the British Heart Foundation. Both Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation are investing £349,068 each to fund this project.
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