Changing lives together: through 80 years of research
We have an incredible legacy in diabetes research, funding scientists across the UK for over 80 years. And in those 80 years, we've made discoveries that have transformed diabetes care across the world. Find out what we've discovered.
You make progress possible
In the last 10 years alone, you've helped us invest over £64 million in diabetes research and get 96 researchers into the lab.
Your donations have changed lives
Over the last 85 years, our research has changed what we know about diabetes and revolutionised treatment for millions of people all over the world. We’ve helped Professor Roy Taylor tackle sight loss, we're helping people like Bruce produce their own insulin and we're putting Type 2 diabetes into remission for people like Tony. Thanks to your donations, we are the biggest charitable funder of diabetes research in the UK.
With more lives to change than ever before, we can’t stop now. We have more research to fund and more lives to improve. Help us to keep breaking new ground for people with diabetes.
Our progress over the last 85 years
Find out how our research funding has changed lives over the last 85 years. You can find all of these incredible stories and more in our Research Impact Report (PDF, 4MB).
1934 – Diabetes UK was founded to improve access to insulin
In 1921, Sir Frederick Banting, along with scientists Charles Best, John Macleod and James Collip, first discovered insulin. Then in 1934 the Diabetic Association was set up by novelist HG Wells and Doctor RD Lawrence – both of whom had type 1 diabetes. RD Lawrence’s life had been saved by the discovery of insulin and their mission was to ensure that everyone with diabetes in the UK had access to this breakthrough treatment, whatever their financial situation.
1935 – We awarded our first research grant
Dr Kosterlitz was awarded the first Diabetic Association (our name before Diabetes UK) research grant of £50, to work with Professor John Macleod, one of the scientists who discovered insulin. In 1939, Dr Kosterlitz made a major discovery in how the liver produces glucose.
1962 – The Bedford Survey begins
Professor Harry Keen and his team at Guy’s Hospital Medical School defined the characteristics of Type 2 diabetes and developed the term ‘borderline diabetes’ to describe people at very high risk of the condition. They surveyed 24,000 people in Bedford and tested their urine samples, finding 250 people with undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes.
1977 – We bought the UK’s first artificial pancreas
The UK's first artificial pancreas cost £22,000 and was the size of a filing cabinet. Professor Sir George Alberti used this to help stabilise blood glucose levels in people with Type 1 diabetes. His work earned him the nickname 'Professor Pancreas'.
Then in 2016, we funded more research into the artificial pancreas in pregnant women where Professor Helen Murphy showed that the artificial pancreas is able to help pregnant women with Type 1 diabetes to manage their blood glucose, within the home setting. 16 women used the device for a month, and 14 of them chose to continue using the artificial pancreas for the rest of their pregnancy and during birth.
This research changed Laura's life (pictured here with her son).
1977 – UK Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) begins
The UK Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) was a landmark 20 year clinical trial involving 5,000 people with Type 2 diabetes.
The results showed that controlling blood glucose and blood pressure drastically reduces the risk of complications in people with Type 2 diabetes. This research changed treatment and care for people all over the world, and it's recognised as a major step forward in understanding how best to manage Type 2 diabetes.
1978 – The first insulin pump is tested
Professors John Pickup, Harry Keen, John Parsons and Sir George Alberti tested the first insulin pump at Guy's Hospital Medical School, leading to the first pumps in 1985.
1981 – The UK’s first Diabetic Foot Clinic
Working with King’s College Hospital, we helped establish the UK’s first Diabetic Foot Clinic. Set up by Dr Michael Edmonds and Dr Peter Watkins, this specialised clinic brought together the skills of chiropodists, shoe-fitters, nurses, diabetes doctors and surgeons, all for people with diabetes who had foot problems, for the first time.
After three years, the number of major amputations had halved. We’re continuing to support footcare research at the clinic today.
Find out more about our research into diabetes and feet.
1983 – The first insulin pen is tested
Back in the 1970s, injecting insulin involved glass syringes and steel needles that had to be sharpened and reused. Dr Sheila Reith teamed up with Dr John Ireland and Dr John Paton to design a new device to make injections easier. They developed the first insulin pen prototype - a device which could inject with a single push of a button. By 1983, with a few design tweaks, the world's first insulin pen - Penject - was available.
This research changed lives, including Peter's - who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was just two years old. Find out how Peter has seen technology advance over the years, thanks to research like ours.
1985 –The Oxford Regional Prospective Study of Diabetes (ORPS) begins
The Oxford Regional Prospective Study of Diabetes (ORPS) tracked the health of over 500 children with Type 1 diabetes straight after diagnosis. 17% of the children had protein in their urine, which was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular and kidney complications early on in life. ORPS helped researchers to find those at high risk of kidney disease, so they could try to prevent it.
Professor Roy Taylor (pictured here) was shocked by the number of people with sight loss in Newcastle. He decided to see if a mobile retinal camera could screen people with diabetes for retinopathy (eye disease). The team mounted their camera in the back of a second-hand ambulance, which they drove all over Tyneside.
This pioneering study showed that this type of screening was more reliable than the standard practice at the time, and by making the service mobile, more people could be screened. Thanks to this research, Newcastle became the first city in the UK where diabetes was no longer the leading cause of sight loss in the working age population in 2009.
Find out more about our retinopathy research.
1987 – The first digital glucose meter
Professor Anthony Turner and his team at Cranfield University developed a new kind of digital glucose meter that was simpler, cheaper and more effective than existing devices. This led to the launch of ExacTech, which is considered the great-grandfather of most glucose meters on the market today.
1989 – The Type 1 diabetes Warren Collection
The Warren Collections were set up when Alec and Beryl Warren left a gift to Diabetes UK in their will. The collections of biological samples from people with a family history of Type 1 diabetes help to link different genes to the condition. As a result, the first genes related to Type 1 diabetes were found in 1994.
1996 – The Type 2 diabetes Warren Collection
The Type 2 diabetes Warren Collection was formed, involving six UK research centres and 2,000 people with one or more family member with Type 2 diabetes. Scientists quickly found genes that increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes in people with a family history of the condition, which demonstrated the need to reduce the risk in family members of those with Type 2 diabetes. Since then, a number of genes associated with Type 2 diabetes have been found using the collection.
2000 – DAFNE
Professors Stephanie Amiel and Simon Heller and Dr Sue Roberts began to design a programme called Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating (DAFNE). DAFNE is an education programme that helps people with Type 1 diabetes have the freedom to eat what they like, and adjust their insulin doses to match. Results showed that DAFNE significantly improved blood glucose control. Over 40,000 people with Type 1 diabetes have benefitted from a DAFNE course since then, resulting in fewer hypos, fewer hypers and a better quality of life.
We launched a campaign to raise funds for an Islet Transplant Consortium, to ensure that islet transplantation would become available in the UK.
The Consortium brought together nine islet research centres from around the country, leading to the first islet transplant in the UK at King's College Hospital in 2005.
Thanks to this research, islet transplants became available on the NHS by 2008, helping people like Bruce (pictured here) produce their own insulin.
Find out more about this incredible research into islet transplants.
2003 – CARDS trial stopped two years early due to success
The Collaborative Atorvastatin Diabetes Study (CARDS) changed the way cholesterol-lowering drugs, statins, were used. Not just across the NHS, but across the world. CARDS was the first ever clinical trial in almost 3,000 people designed to understand if statins could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with Type 2 diabetes. Heart attacks were reduced by over a third and stroke by just under half. The findings were so good that in 2003, it was decided that everyone on the trial would benefit from taking the statin.
2004 – Scientists discover cause of neonatal diabetes
Professor Andrew Hattersley and his team at the University of Exeter showed that a rare form of diabetes, called neonatal diabetes, was caused by a genetic change in a single gene. This genetic change stopped the pancreas from releasing insulin.
They went on to show that people with this form of neonatal diabetes could switch from insulin injections to sulphonylurea tablets. This gave them better blood glucose control and fewer hypos. As a result of becoming experts in rare forms diabetes, the research group have had referrals from nearly 60 countries worldwide.
2011 – A step forward in making the artificial pancreas a reality
We funded Professor Roman Hovorka to perform a world-first trial into using the artificial pancreas out of the lab environment, and in people’s everyday lives. The artificial pancreas helped 24 people with Type 1 diabetes keep their blood glucose levels in range for longer.
2013 – International experts on immunotherapy brought together
The Type 1 Diabetes UK Immunotherapy Consortium (T1DUK) was set up with a £2.8 million investment, in partnership with Tesco and JDRF. T1DUK is bringing together world-class researchers across UK to develop and test new Type 1 diabetes immunotherapies, speeding up the development of treatments to stop the condition in its tracks.
Following from advances in the artificial pancreas back in 2011, Professor Helen Murphy showed that the artificial pancreas is able to help pregnant women with Type 1 diabetes to manage their blood glucose, within the home setting. 16 women used the device for a month, and 14 of them chose to continue using the artificial pancreas for the rest of their pregnancy and during birth.
Find out more about our research into the artificial pancreas.
We awarded our largest-ever research grant of £2.5 million to Professors Roy Taylor and Mike Lean, who joined forces to run the Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial (DiRECT). The first year results showed that it’s possible for some people to put their Type 2 diabetes into remission using a low-calorie, diet-based, weight management programme, delivered by their GP. Almost half (45.6 per cent) of those who took part in the programme were in remission after a year. The researchers are now investigating whether remission can be maintained in the long term, and whether the programme is cost-effective.