University of Birmingham announces five new diabetes research studies

The University of Birmingham has announced the start of five new large projects targeted at improving type 1 diabetes prevention, treatment, and management, with a focus on children and young adults.

The new studies include:

  • The ELSA Study (EarLy Surveillance for Autoimmune Diabetes), led by Professor Parth Narendran, will involve researchers interviewing families, doctors, nurses, and schools to determine whether and how the UK should develop a testing and monitoring program to identify children at risk of type 1 diabetes. The ELSA Study is being carried out in collaboration with Birmingham Health Partners, Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, the Department of Health and Social Care, as well as the Universities of Cardiff, Warwick, Oxford, and Imperial College London, and is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
  • Diabetes and health inequalities: Professor Tim Barrett’s team will ask children and young people with diabetes, as well as their families from poorer and/or ethnic minority backgrounds, how language issues, feelings, income, living conditions, and food availability affect how they manage diabetes, thanks to £1.9 million in funding from the National Institute for Health Research. They’ll look for novel ways to make diabetes management easier and more effective, and they’ll put these ideas to the test in NHS hospitals.
  • Immunotherapies for diabetes: The biggest roadblock to developing particular immunotherapies for type 1 diabetes is that we don’t yet understand how immunotherapies turn off our immune response to our own proteins. Professor David Wraith will lead a clinical trial at Cardiff University, which will be sponsored by $735,000 from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. It will put to the test a novel peptide produced by the University of Birmingham, which was also supported by a $610,000 grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust. The novel peptide has the potential to modulate the T-cell immune response in persons with type 1 diabetes, whether they are at risk or have just been diagnosed. The researchers will evaluate changes in immune cells from the injection site, draining lymph nodes, and peripheral blood in this investigation. This will be the first comprehensive study of the molecular alterations that lead to antigen-specific immunotherapy in people with type 1 diabetes.
  • Sight loss and diabetes: The role of membrane-bound cell organelles known as mitochondria, which create the majority of the chemical energy needed to power the cell’s metabolic activities, will be investigated in two distinct initiatives led by Dr. Jose Romero Hombrebueno. The researchers will look into the impact of mitochondrial activity in the development of different health disorders as a result of type 1 diabetes, as well as the role it plays in diabetic retinopathy, an eye ailment that can lead to vision loss and blindness in diabetics. Diabetes UK is funding the latter study, while the European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes is funding the former.
  • Exercise and type 1 diabetes: This study, led by Dr. Alex Wadley and supported by the Rosetrees Trust, will look at how a home-based exercise program affects autoimmunity in newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes patients. The goal of the study is to see if exercise can help to reduce the progression of type 1 diabetes by changing the amount and activity of white blood cells in the circulation that can adhere to, enter, and damage the pancreas. Although there is evidence that exercise can help individuals with type 1 diabetes improve their overall health and well-being, this initiative intends to give new evidence that exercise can help them reduce the disease’s course once they are diagnosed.

Parth Narendran, Professor of Diabetes Medicine at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy, said:

“The UK has one of the highest incidences of type 1 diabetes in the developed world, at 25 per 100,000 per year, and type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in children. It occurs when cells that make insulin don’t work as they should, and people with the condition have to self-inject insulin for their entire lives. Studies have recently shown that some medicines can safely delay people getting type 1 diabetes. Some countries, such as the US and Australia, already have surveillance systems to identify people at risk of developing type 1 diabetes and to offer them participation in prevention trials and also to reduce their chances of developing type 1 diabetes as an unexpected emergency. The UK does not have such a system in place. Until now, nobody in the UK has explored whether parents and children would welcome such a system, and how it would work. Through ELSA we will potentially be able to change NHS healthcare policy which would result in the early detection and prevention of this condition and its associated long-term complications.”

Timothy Barrett, Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences, said:

“Diabetes causes high blood sugar levels, which can lead to eye and kidney damage if the condition is not well managed. We know that better sugar control reduces this risk, however, children with diabetes from poorer and/ or ethnic minority groups, often have worse sugar control, while these complications often develop when they are young adults who are working and starting families. There is little evidence to show any previous interventions have helped in reducing health inequalities for children with diabetes in different groups. We will work with young people, their families, and diabetes clinicians to develop an action plan that families feel comfortable with and that will support them to improve their self-management.”

Professor David Wraith, Director of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy, said:

“Studies have shown that immunotherapies could play a vital role in treating type 1 diabetes, and it’s essential that we can develop new drugs that could specifically target cells that cause the body’s immune response to behave the wrong way in a person with type 1 diabetes. Our project will help improve our understanding of how the human body’s immune system responds to therapies, which in turn will help the development of new treatments.”

Founded in 2011, Birmingham Health Partners (BHP) drives the development of new diagnostics, drugs and devices by bringing together the renowned University of Birmingham, two leading NHS foundation trusts – University Hospitals Birmingham and Birmingham Women’s and Children’s – and the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network. Its unique ecosystem enables the full spectrum of translational medicine: encompassing health data; an established local health system; academic excellence; and an extensive clinical trials capability. Delivered through Birmingham Health Partners and the Institute of Translational Medicine, the Research FIRST service supports non-CTIMP studies across a wide variety of methodologies and research areas with direct access to clinical, academic and professional services support from across the BHP ecosystem. This service is supporting the ELSA Study. Read more at



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.