Leading professors join Exeter’s ground-breaking diabetes research team

Announced on World Diabetes Day, the recruitments are part of the £6 million expansion

Two world-leading professors are joining the University of Exeter Medical School as part of a £6 million expansion in diabetes research.

The investment from Research England is to expand the Diabetes Centre of Excellence at the University of Exeter, working in partnership with the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust. Across the UK, the government is providing the biggest boost to research and development funding in UK history, as part of the ambition to raise the level of research and development funding to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Professor Inês Barroso and Professor Jack Bowden are the two new professors joining the team.

The appointments are announced on World Diabetes Day (14th November). World Diabetes Day is organised by the International Diabetes Federation, and aims to bring attention to important issues in the Diabetes community. An estimated 4.7 million people are living with diabetes in the UK alone.

Professor of Diabetes, Inês Barroso, coming from the MRC Epidemiology Unit in the University of Cambridge, joins in January 2020. The Government funding at Exeter will allow Inês to research the genetic basis of insulin-resistance in type 2 diabetes, thereby offering potential identification of patients who do not respond to insulin treatment.

Professor Barroso, said: “The Diabetes Centre in Exeter is world-leading in diabetes research, and has an ethos and culture which very much align with my values of mentoring, teamwork and group support, particularly of early career researchers. With the recent funding, it’s a very exciting time to join the expanding team there and take my research closer to the clinic. I have collaborated with many colleagues at the Diabetes Centre over the years so this just seemed a perfect match.”

Jack Bowden, Professor of Biomedical Data Science, has recently started his position at the University of Exeter Medical School, coming from the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit in Bristol. His work will involve developing statistical tools and methods for discovering the fundamental causes of diabetes and its effective treatment, using genetic data, observational studies and clinical trials.

Professor Bowden said: “I was delighted to accept my position within the world-leading Diabetes group at the University of Exeter. I am excited to help this research field evolve, by developing the statistical methods that enable large scale genetic and observational data sources to be exploited in clinical trials and routine patient care.”

Professor Bowden will maintain an honorary position at the University of Bristol and hopes to use his existing research connections to further strengthen the collaborative links between Bristol and Exeter.

Overall the expansion will involve the appointment of 15 new academic staff and independent research fellows, 13 PhD students and professional support staff in nursing, technical and administration roles. The expansion has been underway over the last six months, resulting in the majority of staff positions being filled. A position in immunology research and diabetes is currently available, find more information here. PhD studentships are also currently being advertised.

Professor Angela Shore, coordinating the diabetes expansion, said: “We’re so excited about the high calibre of academic staff, fellows and students joining our diabetes team. The opportunities for collaboration and future research are outstanding and our links with the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital offer huge potential.”

In recent years, the Exeter team has made discoveries that have transformed understanding and improved treatment and care across a range of areas in diabetes. They include:

  • Identifying 16 of the 22 single gene causes of diabetes and providing testing for patients from over 100 countries.
  • Showing that many babies with diabetes from birth could replace insulin injections with a simple tablet.
  • Identifying a common genetic variant that predisposes people to obesity.
  • Unravelling the genetics behind a link between low birth weight and type 2 diabetes.
  • Defying conventional thinking by showing that people with type 1 diabetes retain some insulin-producing cells.
  • Identifying that damage to small blood vessels and nerves is an early feature of diabetes
  • Developing a test to diagnose diabetes far more effectively
  • Identifying new ways to predict which babies will go on to develop type 1 diabetes in later life

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