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Which people with diabetes are more severely affected by coronavirus?

Project summary

People with diabetes are more likely to become seriously ill if they catch coronavirus, but we don’t fully understand why. Dr Dennis will study large health databases to look in detail at different factors, such as age and blood sugar levels, and work out which put people with diabetes at greater risk. This will give us a way to identify who is most likely to experience severe symptoms and could rapidly enable the NHS to improve care for people admitted to hospital with diabetes and coronavirus, helping to save lives.

Background to research

People with all types of diabetes have a greater risk of becoming seriously unwell or dying with coronavirus (Covid-19) compared to people without diabetes. But the reasons behind this are unclear. We urgently need to understand more about which factors play a role in how people with diabetes respond to the virus and who is most likely to experience severe symptoms.

It’s also crucial to rapidly build our knowledge around how best to treat people with diabetes and coronavirus. Currently everyone admitted to hospital with the virus are treated in the same way. But if there are different biological process behind the symptoms experienced by people with diabetes, they could benefit from a different approach.

Research aims

Dr John Dennis will use UK electronic health records to look in detail at factors that help to explain why people with diabetes and coronavirus can become more unwell than those without diabetes. These include records from Public Health England, intensive care data from people with severe coronavirus, and the UK Biobank – a database which follows the health of 500,000 people.

The researchers will look to see whether factors including the type of diabetes a person has, their medications and their blood sugar levels have an impact on coronavirus risk. For example, does a young person with type 1 diabetes have the same risk as an older person with type 2 diabetes? They also aim to untangle the impact of diabetes itself from other risks, such as age or sex.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Knowing more about the specific factors that increase a person with diabetes risk will enable doctors to identify those who is most likely to become unwell with the virus, and who could benefit from closer monitoring. This work could also inform more tailored treatment approaches for people with diabetes and coronavirus, and ensure they receive the best possible care.

Knowing how to spot high risk people with diabetes could also help to inform decisions around who in the community should be shielded or maintain stricter social distancing, along with potentially who should be prioritised for vaccination, if one becomes available.

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