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Celebrating progress in diabetes research


Diabetes in Bradford and district is the highest in the UK, with 11% of the population diagnosed and many more who may be pre-diabetic or not yet diagnosed.

During Diabetes Week (14-20 June) the University of Bradford will highlight some of the most cutting edge research being carried out to help people with diabetes.

Diabetes during pregnancy

Professor Anne Graham will lead a consortium of clinicians, computer scientists and researchers to identify how to better predict which women will deliver babies that are larger than usual for their gestational age. This PhD project is funded by the university and makes use of the Born in Bradford dataset of over 13000 pregnant women.

During pregnancy, some women develop gestational diabetes and are at a much higher risk of having very large babies which the clinical team are more likely to deliver early or by caesarean section. The rate of gestational diabetes is increasing globally and is particularly common in Bradford. Being able to predict which mothers are at highest risk of having an overweight baby in the weeks leading up to the delivery date could ensure the gynaecologists determine the best delivery method as early as possible and could also reassure mothers that are not at high risk.

Dr Liz Breen, Director of the Digital Health Enterprise Zone (DHEZ) said, "The advancement of diabetes prevention, screening, diagnosis and patient support is a key area of concern for our Bradford population. Researchers within DHEZ , working with our NHS, professional and business colleagues, will collaborate to design and deliver digital health solutions to support diabetes care"

To make the screening model even more powerful in being able to identify women at risk, Bradford researchers are now looking at using anonymised blood sugar data to see if the combination of pregnancy information such as scan data, weight gain during pregnancy blood sugar can increase its accuracy. In addition, mothers’ characteristics such as ethnicity and previous history can improve our ability to identify which pregnancies have highest risk of producing babies which are most likely to need to be delivered by caesarean section.

Gestational diabetes is usually temporary and disappears once the mother gives birth. However, both these mothers and their children are at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This is associated with increasing obesity and makes people much more likely to develop cardiovascular complications such as heart attack or stroke.

Dr Donald Whitelaw, Consultant in Diabetes in Endocrinology at Bradford Royal Infirmary said: “Diabetes in pregnancy affects around 500 women in Bradford each year with risks of serious harm to mothers and their babies. Preventing and reducing these risks are key targets to keep the population healthy.”

Research is vital…

The University of Bradford’s Dr Kirsten Riches-Suman is an expert in analysing how Type 2 diabetes affects the heart and blood vessels. Through her work in Bradford and at the University of Leeds, she has discovered that the building blocks of blood vessels – smooth muscle cells – behave differently if you have Type 2 diabetes. This makes the blood vessels prematurely age and leads to an increased chance of the blood vessels becoming blocked. Unfortunately, it can take up to a decade of good blood sugar control to halt or reverse this process, which highlights why early diagnosis in the pre-diabetes stage could be critical for improving cardiovascular health in diabetes patients.

PHD student Alisah Hussain has recently started working with Kirsten and is now looking at how this premature ageing compares to normal ageing to identify new ways to test relative vascular age in the clinic, and what treatments might be effective.

Alisah said: “Growing up in Bradford has made me want to be a part of this cutting edge research looking at early diagnosis and personalised medicine approaches in the longer term. With the university’s internationally recognised expertise and facilities, we can help our local community not only now, but also for future generations.”