University of Exeter awarded £1m rare diabetes research funding

Funding of almost £1m has been awarded to scientists at the University of Exeter to study a rare genetic form of diabetes, with a view to definitively identify a new form of the condition.

The funding was secured by the University of Exeter Medical School’s Dr Kash Patel, as part of the Wellcome Clinical Research Career Development Fellowship, and will allow Dr Patel and his team to study Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY).

A rare form of diabetes able to passed down through families, MODY is caused by a defect in one of 14 genes. Many of these were discovered at the University of Exeter, which is a leading institution in research into the condition.

Identifying individuals with MODY is important as they often are misdiagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. People with MODY can often be treated with tablets, and some do not require treatment at all.

Increasing affordability of genetic testing in recent years has allowed scientists to identify more people with the MODY genes but do not yet have diabetes. Scientists have similarly identified people who do not have the defective genes, yet display similar characteristics to people with MODY. Part of Dr Patel’s research will aim to understand this further and identify an explanation, potentially identifying a new form of diabetes.

The research will focus on the University of Exeter’s sample group of more than 5,000 people with MODY, as well as using the freely available genetic and clinical data of the more than 500,000 people on the UK Biobank.

Dr Patel said: “Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Young affects thousands of people across the world. We’ve made huge strides at Exeter in improving diagnosis and treatment for people globally, yet we still have a lot to learn.

“I’m delighted with this award, which I’ll use to develop ways to accurately predict if and when people with defective MODY genes will get diabetes.

“I’m also aiming to identify a new type of diabetes in people who appear to be MODY-like, not because of a defect in a MODY gene, but due to the very high-risk genetic predisposition to common diabetes.”

Professor Clive Ballard, Executive Dean and Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Exeter Medical School, added: “This award is outstanding recognition for Exeter’s world-leading research in diabetes and its sub-types. Already, we have improved diagnosis and treatment across the world, meaning better health outcomes for patients. A huge congratulations to the team, and I look forward to seeing the output of this exciting project.”


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