Since 2012 Hugh has been working towards his PhD at the University of Southampton, under the supervision of Dr Felino Cagampang. With support from Diabetes UK, he is using experiments to see if the anti-diabetes drug metformin might benefit obese pregnant mothers and their children.
What is the focus of your research?
"When it occurs in pregnant mothers, obesity can increase their risk of gestational diabetes and have a negative impact on the early growth of their developing child. For the child this can lead to an increased risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in later life.
"That’s why, using studies in an animal model of diabetes, I’m trying to work out if the drug metformin, the first line treatment for adults with Type 2 diabetes, can improve blood glucose in obese pregnant mothers.
"I also want to see if the offspring of mothers treated in this way are at a lower risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes when they become adults."
How could your research benefit people with diabetes?
"The drug metformin is already widely available, but my study could identify a new way of using it to help treat obese mothers during pregnancy. This would not only improve the health of mothers, but also help to reduce the future risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in their children. Our team wants to uncover the ways by which metformin protects against poor nutrition, which could be important for tackling the growing 'epidemic' of obesity and Type 2 diabetes."
What motivated you to get involved in diabetes research?
"I often used to talk to my grandmother about her diabetes, but I only decided to get involved in diabetes research during my undergraduate degree, with my first exposure to working with patients. I was looking at infertility in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This very common syndrome has strong links to insulin resistance, weight gain and also often involves the use of metformin to improve fertility – so this PhD project immediately caught my eye.
"I was also extremely taken with the idea of targeting very early development. This is such a new and exciting field with a lot of scope for dramatic public healthcare improvements, simply because we are finding out so much in such a short space of time."
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself
"Outside of the lab, I really love playing football and squash. I play with a few of the other PhDs and doctors from the lab. Other than that, I’m cultivating a pipe-dream to send up a camera to the edge of space on a weather balloon. I’ve got a 10ft balloon at the bottom of my wardrobe. Just waiting on those last few vital parts..."