Navigation path

Key Research Areas


Diabetes or diabetes mellitus - a disease characterised by abnormal blood sugar levels - represents a growing threat to human health.

Over 33 million people in the Union suffer from diabetes.

The most prevalent forms of diabetes are caused by decreased production of or sensitivity to insulin, a pancreatic hormone that allows the body to absorb sugar. With deficient insulin function, sugar accumulates in the blood, leading to vascular damage. Symptoms include dehydration, fatigue and nausea, while long-term complications include heart disease, kidney failure, retinal damage and blindness, nerve damage and risk of amputation.

Except for genetic conditions or special types of diabetes (like type-1 diabetes), it is often a preventable chronic disease through a healthy lifestyle starting in childhood. Although there is no cure, the disease is treatable and can be managed by insulin supplementation in case of diabetes type 1, or a combination of diet, physical activity, medication and insulin supplementation in case of diabetes type 2.

In recent years, an explosion in diabetes incidence occurred, not only in the EU, but throughout the world. According to the latest WHO statistics, about 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, a number likely to more than double in the next 20 years. According to IDF (International Diabetes Federation) data, the absolute number of diabetics in the EU-27 will rise from approximately 33 million in 2010 to 38 million in 2030 (see the European Commission's Public Health web site for more information). In 2010, approximately 9% of the adult (20-79 years) EU-27 population was diabetic. Many people have diabetes for years and simply do not realise it until the symptoms appear.

In recognition of this growing problem the EU has been continuously supporting research on diabetes through framework programmes. In the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7 2007-2013) the focus was on the causes of the different types of diabetes, and their prevention and treatment, with special attention to juvenile diseases and factors operating in childhood.

Research in this area continues under Horizon 2020.


Here are two success stories related to diabetes research... with a link to more below.

Photo of the fish farm

Robots interact with children to help with their diabetes

Diabetes is a serious challenge for many children and teenagers. Their well-being depends on various decisions that they have to take throughout the day. Can electronic games be of any help?

Image of the doctor's hand sketching virtual kidneys

Detecting diabetic kidney disease before it really sets in

The damage done by chronic kidney disease is irreversible: once the illness has taken hold, the organ can't be healed. Patients' prospects and quality of life would be much improved if the condition could be spotted sooner. An EU-funded project has developed a biomarker test to pick up very early signs of diabetic kidney disease, and identified possible improvements in the approach to therapy.

Read more diabetes research success stories


Obesity is associated with many diseases, including cardiovascular diseases or diabetes mellitus type 2 and has therefore been shown to reduce life expectancy. While only recently identified as a major health concern, obesity levels have been growing steadily. According to the WHO, obesity has tripled over the past two decades: one in five Europeans is expected to be obese in 2010. The condition threatens to rank among the biggest causes of premature death in both the industrialised and emerging economies.

In 2006 the European member states of the WHO signed the European Charter on Counteracting Obesity in order to curb the epidemic and reverse the trend.

In recognition of a need for action the EU supported research in this area under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7: 2007-2013). The focus was on multidisciplinary approaches including genetics, life style and epidemiology, with special attention on juvenile diseases and factors operating in childhood. Advancing our understanding of the interaction between food, nutrition, genetics and health is a key to making our diets healthier and to combat obesity.