Diabetes: the quest for new treatments

diabetes research, cells

Diabetes is one of our major health scourges. The disease is increasing in prevalence worldwide and an estimated 640 million people will be affected by 2040. In Sweden, more than half a million people have diabetes. Most of them suffer from type 2 diabetes. However, among Swedish children type 1 diabetes is the most common chronic disease – a disease for which there is currently no cure. In the quest for a solution, researchers are attempting to tackle the underlying causes of the disease at cell level.

Diabetes has an enormous impact on the patient’s quality of life, being associated with serious and chronic complications in the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves. The disease is also costly for society. In Sweden, diabetes accounts for more than 10 per cent of healthcare costs. For as yet undiscovered reasons, the incidence of type 1 diabetes has doubled in the last 30 years and it continues to increase by about five per cent per year. Despite the great demand for more effective treatments and the great efforts made, research has so far failed to identify satisfactory methods of treatment.

Researchers at Uppsala University are now adopting a completely new approach by seeking a coordinated response to the vital need to prevent, treat and ultimately, perhaps, cure diabetes. The strategy is to study targeted pharmaceutical treatment in the pancreas – for example, the possibility of organ-specific transport of drugs, including cell therapies, to the insulin-producing tissue. The plan is to establish an integrated research environment that incorporates two of the University’s strongest areas – diabetes research and pharmaceutical development.

Previous attempts to develop new methods of treatment for diabetes have suffered from narrowness. A new, broader research environment will facilitate direct knowledge transfer from basic laboratory research via pharmaceutical development to clinical care.  This will open up previously untested opportunities to develop new strategies and approaches for more effective treatments.

Facts about diabetes

  • Type 1 diabetes, in which the immune system attacks and destroys our insulin-producing cells, has become twice as common in the last 30 years. The disease is associated with environmental factors, but as it has not been possible to identify with any certainty which factors are involved, no preventive measures are available.
  • Type 2 diabetes is considerably more common. The main problem in this case is inadequate secretion of insulin, a hormone that lowers blood glucose levels – a problem often linked to being overweight. The progress of the disease can be slowed by early diagnosis and lifestyle changes. However, at present there are inadequate resources to test everyone at risk.

We are combining our forces to prevent, treat and ultimately, perhaps, cure diabetes. Within 10 or 20 years, we will have access to completely new options and treatments compared with those available today.”
Per-Ola Carlsson, Professor of Medical Cell Biology

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