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Diabetes ‘digital health’ event to focus on Bradford’s endemic diabetes problem


Dr Liz Breen

Health experts want to identify new areas of research to tackle condition

Health experts are to gather at a ‘catalyst event’ in Bradford to discuss new ways of treating diabetes.

Despite having one of the youngest populations in the UK, Bradford has the highest ratio of diabetes, according to experts. Figures released by Diabetes UK in February 2020 showed 10.81 per cent of people in Bradford, 12,116 residents,  were diagnosed with diabetes compared to 6.9 per cent of the wider population across the UK.

It is hoped the May 25 symposium, hosted by the University of Bradford’s Digital Health Enterprise Zone (DHEZ), will lead to new approaches to tackling the endemic problem.

News of the event coincides with Type 2 Diabetes Prevention Week, which runs from May 10 to 16.

Digital health

Dr Tom Lawton is an Intensive Care Consultant (ICU) and anaesthetist at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Trust’s Clinical Head for Artificial Intelligence. He recently received an MBE for going above and beyond during the Covid pandemic and has been made Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University.

He will also be involved in the event and is working closely with the University on other diabetes and digital health related studies.

He said: "Despite a young population, Bradford has the highest prevalence of Type-2 diabetes in the UK. It carries many complications, which have often already started by the point of diagnosis, leading to disability, financial costs, and mortality. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for attention on this disease as people with diabetes were twice as likely to die from Covid-19 as the general population. However, in Bradford exists the expertise, whole-systems thinking, and will to research and improve this - and I believe that joined-up digital health has a massive role to play."

The event will build on research activity within the University aimed at advancing diabetes diagnosis, treatment, and support for patients, carers and extended families. 

New research

Dr Kirsten Riches-Suman works in the Faculty of Life Sciences and her research is focussed on understanding why people with Type-2 diabetes suffer from problems with their blood vessels, which can cause conditions including heart disease and difficulties in repairing the skin after an injury. She works with surgeons at the Bradford Royal Infirmary to see what makes diabetes patients' cells and tissue different at the microscopic level to identify more effective treatments for them.

Dr Riches-Suman said: "In order to help make new treatments for the complications of diabetes, we first need to understand what tiny chemical changes happen in blood vessels which stops them working properly. My team has identified problems with inflammation and DNA damage which can open up opportunities for the development of new medicines to improve cardiovascular and skin health, and ultimately quality of life.”

The outcome of the event will be to identify research agendas that can be followed up as collaborative projects and funding bid opportunities. 

The University of Bradford has a long history of engagement in diabetes research. One example includes the DAISI (digital animation in service improvement) project developed by Dr Mel Cooper, a smartphone app which aims to communicate clear health messages to pregnant women with diabetes. Another, led by Prof Anne Graham and Dr Jon Silcock from the Faculty of Life Sciences, involved working with pharmacists in Libya and Kuwait to educate patients with Type-2 Diabetes about their condition and medications which can lead to better blood glucose control.

Future care

More recently, a funding application led by Dr Mai Elshehaly, in the Faculty of Engineering and Informatics, aims to set up a project to develop visual analytics solutions that complement Artificial Intelligence (AI), to address inequalities in care for diabetic patients. Inequalities exist in the community, particularly for those of ethnic or socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, and the project will help decision makers understand how these inequalities are manifested in connected datasets.

DHEZ Director, Dr Liz Breen, Reader in Health Service Operations at the University of Bradford, said: “This event will bring together experienced professionals and academics to discuss innovation in diabetes care and the role of technologies within this; and try to ascertain what diabetes diagnosis and care will look like in 10 years, and ask how we prepare our healthcare system for this. Diabetes has been specifically chosen because of its importance within our community.”

The outcome of the event on May 25 will be to identify research agendas that can be followed up as collaborative projects and funding bid opportunities. These projects may align with ongoing work in the Bradford area on diabetes care, or provide new routes of exploration.