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3m euros awarded for research into diabetes and obesity prevention

Three year funding of 2,999,332 euros has been awarded by the European Commission to Graham Hitman - Professor of Molecular Medicine and Diabetes at Queen Mary, University of London - and colleagues, for research into the prevention of diabetes and obesity.

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Professor Graham Hitman
Professor Graham Hitman

The grant brings together a unique group of investigators in South Asia (India, Bangladesh and Pakistan) and Europe (UK, Norway, Germany and Finland) with SMEs of complementary expertise (Germany and Spain) combining prevention strategies, state-of-the-art genomics, social sciences and public health that focus on early life predictors of disease. The major objective behind this collaborative and multi-disciplinary approach is to combine knowledge from the work packages on lifestyle, nutrition and genomics to both inform public health policy through guideline development and design a large-scale pragmatic intervention to prevent the metabolic syndrome, obesity and diabetes in South Asian populations aimed at early life taking into account multi-generational effects.  

Despite a strong genetic component to diabetes and obesity, the rapidly rising prevalence of these disorders is due to adaptation to a changing environment. The epicentre of the ‘diabetes epidemic’ is in South Asia and this is reflected in the migrant populations in Europe. Current prevention strategies are focused on adult life and target over-nutrition in high-risk adults. However, for many population groups across the globe, these strategies ignore many key principles that underlie the increasing global prevalence of these diseases. A substantial portion of the South Asian people, living in their home countries experience nutrition deprivation, while after migration to Europe, may encounter nutritional abundance resulting in imbalance during their life course. These conditions are of particular importance during foetal and early developmental stages where environmental insults may interact with genetic risk to induce ‘foetal programming’ of adult metabolic disease. Few groups have targeted early life programming as an opportunity for the prevention of diabetes/obesity in childhood and subsequent adult life and there are limited guidelines on this topic.

Professor Hitman said: “We are currently witnessing an epidemic of diabetes in east London in our local South Asian population who have 3-6 times the prevalence of diabetes compared to average figures in England; furthermore, the disease presents 10-15years earlier. This mirrors what is happening in the South Asian sub-continent where 1 in 4 of all people over the age of 20years either has diabetes or pre-diabetes. This exciting study of great local and international importance will target South Asian pregnant women to combine prevention strategies, state-of-the-art genomics, social sciences and public health strategies as an opportunity to prevent the early signs of diabetes in the offspring. It is truly a privilege to lead this international consortium and work so closely with colleagues in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India on problems which affect us all.”


Genomic and lifestyle predictors of foetal outcome relevant to diabetes and obesity and their relevance to prevention strategies in South Asian peoples (GIFTS)

Grant co-ordinator: Professor Graham Hitman

Work-package leaders at Queen Mary, University of London: Dr Vardhman Rakyan, Professor Trish Greenhalgh and Professor Khaikd Khan with recruitment from Barts and The London and Newham University NHS Trusts

14 University participants and 2 SMEs spread over Europe and South Asia:

UK: QMUL, UEL, UCL, LSHTM, Southampton, Exeter, Norway: Oslo, Finland: Helsinki, Germany: Dresden, Instruct AG (SME), Spain: BAP Health Outcomes (SME)

Pakistan: Baqui Institute, Bangladesh: Diabetes Association of Bangladesh, India: Academic Institutes in Pune, Hyderabad & Delhi

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