The UK led projects are two of a EUR 16m (£13.4m) set of four linked studies bringing together European and global experts and focusing on how people's genetic make-up, surroundings and lifestyle influence their chances of getting diabetes and affect how the disease progresses. Three-quarters of the finance comes from the EU.
By concentrating on different populations from South Asia, the Mediterranean region, or sub-Saharan Africa and comparing people living in their country of origin with those from the same background who have moved to other parts of the world, the projects aim to improve our knowledge of the root causes of diabetes and ultimately to develop new diagnostic tools, treatments, exercise programmes and diets.
The EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said: "Diabetes is set to rise sharply, with devastating consequences for our health and Europe's healthcare systems. To break this trend, we need to invest in research to better understand, prevent and treat this debilitating disease. These research projects will lead the way".
Prof Graham Hitman from Queen Mary, University of London will coordinate research worth EUR 3.9m (£3.3m), by experts from eight countries, on the prevalence and incidence of diabetes in a number of South Asian populations, with a focus on signs that can predict the disease already in early life.
Prof. Hitman said: “We are currently witnessing an epidemic of diabetes in East London with our local South Asian population who have 3-6 times the prevalence of diabetes compared to average figures in England; furthermore, the disease presents 10-15 years earlier. This mirrors what is happening in the South Asian sub-continent where 1 in 4 of all people over the age of 20 years either has diabetes or pre-diabetes. This exciting study of great local and international importance will target South Asian pregnant women to combine prevention strategies, state-of-the-art genomics, social sciences and public health strategies as an opportunity to prevent the early signs of diabetes in the offspring. It is truly a privilege to lead this international consortium and work so closely with colleagues in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India on problems that affect us all.”
Several more UK institutions are involved, including the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University College London, the University of East London, the University of Southampton and the University of Exeter.
Dr John Chambers of Imperial College will lead a team from nine countries - also including Oxford and Cambridge Universities and UK company Cellcentric Ltd - in a EUR 3.9m (£3.3m) project evaluating the risk factors involved in the particularly high rates of type 2 diabetes in South Asian populations.
The other two projects, led by French and Dutch scientists, will analyse the genetic and environmental factors of insulin resistance in immigrant Mediterranean populations and type 2 diabetes and obesity in Ghanaian populations in Ghana and Europe. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is also a partner in the latter project.