The lifestyle and genetic make-up of people with diabetes will be examined as part of a new Scottish study aiming to explain why some develop complications and others do not.
The £1.3m study, funded by AXA Research Fund, is being led by Edinburgh University’s Professor Helen Colhoun. Calhoun and colleagues will be looking to highlight patterns that could establish the risk of developing both type 1 diabetes and 2 diabetes and related complications, such as neuropathy.
“The idea is to develop tools that allow you to differentiate among people with diabetes who’s on a path to a worse outcome so that we can identify them earlier, have greater intensification of treatments at a more appropriate, earlier stage and therefore slow the rate of complications, while avoiding over-treatment of people who don’t need it,” said Colhoun.
The study team will examine data from the country’s health records, involving thousands of people. Then they will investigate why rates of both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are increasing in Scotland as well as establishing factors which can help to determine health outcomes.
It is estimated that there are more than 228,000 people with diabetes in Scotland, and there has been a rise of 45 per cent in new cases of children with type 1 diabetes since 2007.
“Over the last three decades, type 1 diabetes has increased in incidence,” said Calhoun. “We don’t know why, but we are seeing the same pattern of increase in many northern countries – Finland has experienced it as well, for example. In fact, most countries have experienced it.
“The main theory is that there are viruses which, because of someone’s genetic make-up, may trigger an autoimmune reaction. What those viruses are is not known.
“One possibility is that those viruses have just become more common, but there are also theories that some aspect of our lifestyle may be making us more susceptible to getting the virus or responding the way we do.”

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