Diabetes Research

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Support our world-leading, life-saving diabetes research

The University of Exeter is a world leader in the understanding and treatment of neonatal diabetes. The condition is caused by a change in single genes, (a monogenic disorder) which are involved in keeping the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas working properly. This genetic change results in life-threatening diabetes developing soon after birth.

Ground-breaking research: Exeter's ‘miracle treatment’

Exeter’s researchers, led by Professor Andrew Hattersley CBE, (pictured) made a landmark discovery in 2004: that around half of the babies diagnosed with neonatal diabetes can stop insulin injections and be treated more effectively with tablets.

This discovery has revolutionised the lives of individuals with this condition, and those of their families. It eradicates the need to inject with insulin several times a day, providing a much less invasive treatment, and giving individuals much better control of their glucose. The tablet may also prevent the onset of developmental delay in children, including muscle weakness, learning difficulties and epilepsy. Professor Hattersley said: “Switching from regular insulin injections was life-changing for these people who had been on insulin all their life; many described it as a ‘miracle treatment’”.

Exeter Professors Andrew Hattersley and Maggie Shepherd also have a brilliant podcast about diabetes and genes, One in Six Billion. Search for it on your preferred podcast platform to listen to inspiring stories of the research being undertaken at Exeter and its impact around the world.

A simple test with global impact

In some lower income countries, insulin is in very short supply and a lack of it means that children with diabetes are unnecessarily dying from their condition. A simple blood test, provided by the University of Exeter, diagnoses each individual’s particular subtype of neonatal diabetes, and identifies those children who will benefit from a much cheaper and less invasive treatment.

Our ability to offer free genetic testing is appreciated worldwide, with clinicians and families going to great lengths to get blood samples from their children to Exeter for screening. The genetic testing service we provide at Exeter is absolutely essential for ensuring these children born with diabetes get the best possible treatment.

"For a child in a developing country, not depending on insulin is a huge thing. Moreover, the change in their glucose control could mean the difference between developing complications in a country where there is almost no resources for addressing complications and living a healthy and productive life. So - thank you." - Clinician of a patient from Rwanda who switched from insulin to tablets.

How you can support us

The University of Exeter is a world leader in neonatal diabetes research. Our capacity for testing for this rare condition is ten times that of any other facility in the world, and we urgently need to raise money to enable this life-saving testing to continue.

A genetic test for neonatal diabetes costs just £200. For 82% of children, the test enables us to identify which gene has caused their diabetes. Out of those, 50% of those will be able to stop taking insulin and transition to tablets – a potentially life-saving change. The genetic testing programme at Exeter costs £40,000 per year to run. If we can raise £100,000 we will be able to continue the programme for a further two and a half years, allowing us to improve the lives of over 500 babies born with this condition.

By making a donation to this programme, you can help to save the lives of children diagnosed with this devastating disorder, by ensuring they receive the correct diagnosis and treatment. Please consider supporting us today.

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