Mobilising diabetes research

Diabetes is one of our most common diseases, and it severely impacts patient quality of life. Uppsala University is now mobilising forces within diabetes research by establishing a multidisciplinary centre focused on preventing and treating the disease – the Uppsala Diabetes Centre (UDC).

Diabetes is increasing around the world, and in 2040 it is estimated that 640 million people will have the disease. In Sweden, half a million people are estimated to suffer from diabetes. The disease is also costly for society. Ten per cent of all medical care expenses in Sweden are linked to diabetes.

Most suffer from type 2 diabetes. But among Swedish children, type 1 diabetes is the most common chronic disease, one that currently lacks a cure. For still unknown reasons, the occurrence of type 1 diabetes has doubled in the last 30 years and continues to increase by about 5 per cent per year. The demand for more effective treatments is considerable but so far research has been unable to identify satisfactory treatment methods, even with major efforts.

Expanding the range of available expertise

The new centre – the Uppsala Diabetes Centre (UDC) – is bringing together expertise in medicine, pharmacology, natural sciences, engineering, social sciences and the humanities to leverage different perspectives in solving the challenges of preventing and treating diabetes.

There has long been a large wealth of knowledge on diabetes within medicine and pharmacology. The new centre will contribute by providing a broader approach using expertise within AI, image analysis and other supporting technologies as well as knowledge within areas like health economics, lifestyle questions, communication and psychology. The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences will also contribute with comparative diabetes research and other insights.

“We will build bridges between different areas of expertise that can provide us with new perspectives and maybe new answers to our questions on diabetes. Within 10–20 years, we will hopefully have access to completely new options and treatments compared to today,” says Per-Ola Carlson, professor of medical cell biology and one of the individuals who took the initiative for the new centre.

Offers synergies

Previous efforts to develop new treatment methods for diabetes have been slowed by being entirely too narrowly focused.

“A new, broader researcher environment enables direct knowledge transfer from laboratory basic research via pharmaceutical development to clinical care. Adding contributions from other disciplinary domains and the interdisciplinary approach offer synergies,” explains Carlsson. This will open as yet untested opportunities for developing new strategies and approaches for more effective treatments that can help patients achieve a better quality of life.

The Uppsala Diabetes Centre will also ensure continued diabetes research. As part of this effort, an interdisciplinary research school for doctoral students from all disciplinary domains at Uppsala University will be established.

UDC will open in January 2021 and be based out of the Department of Medical Cell Biology. The board of the UDC will include representatives for Uppsala University’s three disciplinary domains and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

FACTS ABOUT DIABETES

  • Type 1 diabetes, where the immune system attacks and destroys our insulin-producing cells, has become twice as common over the last 30 years. The disease is linked to environmental factors, but since these have not been identified with certainty, no preventive measures are available.
  • Type 2 diabetes is much more common, and the main problem is insufficient production of the blood sugar reducing hormone insulin, something that is particularly common with obesity. The progression of the disease can be slowed if discovered early and with changes in lifestyle. Today, though, there are insufficient resources for examining everyone in the risk zone.

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