Fundamental research from Lund University Diabetes Centre is widely recognised among the world’s most important contributions to the future development of new treatments for diabetes. Increased knowledge about the different subtypes of diabetes is required in order to eventually reduce the spread and impact of the disease.
Diabetes is the fastest growing disease in the world today. Just like malaria, TB and AIDS, diabetes is classed as the greatest threat to public health worldwide with over 370 million people suffering from the disease. The figure is estimated to exceed 438 million in 2030.
The major challenge
The biggest challenge is to find new, effective treatments for each subtype of diabetes. The disease is not just one universal illness but several different diseases, all with different characteristics. The common denominator is that blood sugar levels are too high and the reason is primarily linked to the lack of insulin.
Professor Erik Renström from Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC) explains that “as we grow older, the body’s ability to produce insulin decreases whereupon diabetes diseases (type II) traditionally have been more common among older people. However, in recent years we have seen that the disease also affects younger people”.
Researchers have begun to question whether the cause of the disease can be derived from life style alone. They have found other contributing factors such as genetics and inheritance. The major challenge remains; the various diabetes diseases are so different that a universal treatment is not effective.
Just the tip of the iceberg?
Exodiab is the result of many years collaboration between the leading medical universities of Lund and Uppsala. LUDC is one of the world’s most complete centers of knowledge and understanding of diabetes diseases, with geneticists, diabetes researchers and clinicians working side by side.
Using Omics studies, the researchers try to identify patterns in large collections of patient data. With close access to biobanks and patient data, Skåne presents a very good region to conduct this type of studies. “We are essentially looking for answers to what it is that characterises diabetes. Today, we speak of five subgroups, but we know that there are many more. What we have found so far is just the tip of the iceberg. Possibly there are several hundred subtypes of diabetes”, says Erik Renström.
More knowledge is required to divide patients into the correct category of diabetes. Professor Renström continues: “Millions of people receive the wrong treatment for their specific type of diabetes. This is a bleak reality, but at the same time we have never been closer to developing new treatments than we are today”.
Academy and industry side by side
LUDC gathers over 30 different research groups with over 350 researchers. “We also have the support of an industry that is willing and able to develop new innovations”, says LUDC Innovation Manager Annie Chandy. She explains further: “Our research on diabetes is strongly focused on finding new drug targets. We have access to some of the best biobanks in the field of diabetes as well as well-developed platforms in genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and cellular imaging. This enables for a combination of the Omics-data with clinical and phenotypic data which leads to new drug targets”.
Collaboration with the industry enables LUDC researchers to present drug targets and in the next step validate them before definite development of new individualised treatments is carried out by industrial partners.
“As a continuing trend shows, the medical industry is down-sizing its research and development departments. Academic research institutions have therefore become important partners to the industry in terms of finding new drug projects and developing them side by side”, Annie Chandy concludes.