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More than 20 groups across Oxford work on type 2 diabetes, spanning many areas of research and approaches.

3D projection of a series of images from a mouse islet showing alpha cells (green), delta cells (red) and beta cells (magenta) © Quan Zhang, OCDEM
3D projection of a series of images from a mouse islet showing alpha cells (green), delta cells (red) and beta cells (magenta)

These are aimed at understanding the causes of diabetes and its associated conditions, and developing improved ways of predicting, preventing and treating these diseases. Type 2 diabetes develops when the pancreas does not make enough insulin or organs become resistant to it. In Oxford, researchers are exploring how beta, alpha and delta cells within the islets of the pancreas contribute to normal and diseased states. They also carry out genome-wide association studies to understand the pathways involved in the development of type 2 diabetes and to generate improved tools to manage the disease. GWAS has identified many DNA sequence variants associated with increased susceptibility to the disease, shedding light on the molecular mechanisms involved.

People with diabetes are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease. A number of groups are interested in exploring the relationship between these two conditions with a view to understanding how the cardiovascular system and especially cardiac metabolism is perturbed in diabetes. They use both animal models and human studies to pursue this. 

Oxford researchers are using epidemiological approaches to study diabetes and its complications in low- and middle-income countries. The Mexico City Prospective Study is a cohort of over 150,000 middle-aged adults established to study the social, lifestyle, physical, metabolic and genetic causes of diabetes and related conditions. The China Kadoorie Biobank Study has gathered physical and lifestyle data from over half a million adults from 10 regions of China and is using the data to investigate risk factors and causes of a wide range of chronic diseases.

Researchers are also working to improve the care of people with diabetes in a UK NHS setting and in low- and middle-income countries. This includes self-management of diabetes in general practice, where researchers are studying how best to use blood glucose monitoring, and developing and testing digital health systems that collect and use data from personal monitoring devices to help improve lifestyle and use of medicines.

The Diabetes Trial Unit (DTU) carries out national and multinational clinical trials related to diabetes, from proof-of-concept and efficacy studies to Phase IV trials, and also undertakes academic-led Phase I/II trials of new therapeutic agents and medical devices in the areas of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolism. 

The population based cohort Oxford BioBank is used for diabetes and related studies in Oxford and elsewhere and is a cohort of approximately 9000 healthy men and women aged 30-50 living in Oxfordshire. 

The Diabetes and Metabolism theme within the Oxford NIHR Biomedical Research Centre supports clinical research in many of these areas and has a dedicated Clinical Research Unit in OCDEM that is fully equipped to carry out a range of human metabolic phenotyping studies.