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Can type 2 diabetes drugs protect against complications?

Project summary

New studies suggest that type 2 diabetes drugs (used to control blood glucose levels) have positive effects on blood vessels. Dr Kim Gooding wants to know if they also have these positive effects in people with diabetes-related complications, such as retinopathy. In the long term, this will tell us whether drugs currently used to treat type 2 diabetes could also treat complications, and inform the development of new treatments to combat complications in the future.

Background to research

Following a meal, our gut releases hormones, such as GLP-1, that tell the pancreas to release the right amount of insulin needed to lower the levels of glucose in the blood again. Drugs that act like GLP-1 (like exenatide) are now used to control blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

There is now evidence to suggest that these drugs may also have a positive effect on blood vessels, but research so far has mainly focused on people who don’t have any diabetes-related complications. We don’t yet know if these drugs could also be beneficial for people with complications. As people with complications often have widespread blood vessel damage, this is a very important question to answer.


Research aims

Dr Gooding’s team are recruiting people without type 2 diabetes alongside people with type 2 diabetes, who also have either no retinopathy or advanced retinopathy, to take part in their study. Each person will receive a drug that acts like GLP-1 (like exenatide), and the team will then study its effects on their blood vessels.

They want to know if the drugs have different effects on the three different groups of people. They hope to work out whether these therapies could be used to treat retinopathy or other complications of diabetes that involve blood vessels.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

At Diabetes UK we are fighting for a world where diabetes can do no harm, and this includes finding ways to treat and prevent complications. This research will provide new insights into how GLP-1-like drugs impact on blood vessels in people with diabetes who are experiencing complications.

In the long term, this will help the development of new treatments to prevent complications like retinopathy and tell us whether GLP-1-like drugs already licensed to control blood glucose levels can also be used to treat complications.

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