More than ten per cent of those with elevated blood sugar levels develop type 2 diabetes within two years. Among those affected, from ten to twenty per cent respond so poorly to current therapies that the disease causes complications. A major European research effort with Danish participation and EU funding is taking up the battle with aggressive diabetes on a whole range of different fronts.
“With what we know at present the risk of developing type 2 diabetes appears to lie in changes among our 25,000 genes and to changes in the hundreds of bacteria types living in our gut,” says Oluf Borbye Pedersen, Professor of Molecular Metabolism and Genetics at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Centre for Basic Metabolic Research and the Lundbeck Foundation Center for Applied Medical Genomics at the University of Copenhagen.
Researchers to work with 700 Danes
Professor Oluf Borbye Pedersen has just received a grant of DKK 11 million from the EU for an Innovative Medical Initiative to investigate the gut bacteria researchers suspect of playing a part in the aggressive rapid development of diabetes.
These bacteria need anaerobic surroundings. This means that exposure to oxygen kills them, and so studying them is a technological challenge. But the researchers have developed a method of identifying them from their DNA.
“We are going to work on a group of 500 Danish subjects who have just been diagnosed with elevated blood glucose levels. We will monitor them in a series of studies over the next 18 months,” Professor Borbye Pedersen says.
“We want to see if subjects with a high risk of developing diabetes have special changes to their DNA and the composition of their gut flora, and particular changes to the proteins in their blood. We hope this will enable us to develop a battery of biomarkers among the ten-to-twenty per cent who very quickly develop regular type 2 diabetes. We expect that the biomarkers will eventually become a test for doctors to use in order to identify patients at particularly high risk of developing aggressive diabetes much sooner.”
New tests and drugs to emerge from European cooperation
“In addition to the 500 subjects from the first group, we will be following 200 newly-diagnosed type 2 patients for eighteen months,” Professor Borbye Pedersen continues.
“We estimate that from ten to twenty per cent of them will be part of a group that is seriously afflicted by their diabetes and experience complications such as kidney, nerve and eye damage, while present-day therapies have little or no effect. We will use advanced genetic technology to study whether their DNA is particularly vulnerable or there are changes to their gut flora and the resulting impact on the metabolism, or changes in the protein composition in their blood.”
The researchers are aiming to develop a test GPs can use to quickly identify patients with aggressive diabetes. This will enable them to tailor dietary and exercise regimes at an early stage, and prescribe intensified, targeted therapies using drugs that compensate for the consequences of the DNA changes that dispose patients for the disease.
In addition to the centre at the University of Copenhagen, this major EU partnership also involves a research group from the Technical University of Denmark and nineteen other European universities. To ensure that the research results are turned into preventive tests and new therapies as soon as possible, the EU has entered into a partnership with four pharmaceuticals companies: Sanofi, Servier, Novo Nordisk and Eli Lily.
Professor Oluf Borbye Pedersen
Tel: +45 30 76 90 50