Uppsala University intends to take diabetes research to the next level

26 August 2019

Diabetes is one of our major diseases and the incurable disease is increasing worldwide. Researchers are trying to address the underlying causes of the disease at the cellular level.

Diabetes is among our major public health issues, an endemic and thus far incurable disease that is gaining ground worldwide. In the quest for a cure, researchers are attempting to attack the disease’s underlying causes at a cellular level.

With the international symposium New Horizons in Diabetes Research, Uppsala University is paving the way for new knowledge regarding a rapidly growing endemic disease for which healthcare still lacks a cure.
This September will see a gathering of the world’s leading diabetes researchers at Uppsala University for the symposium New Horizons in Diabetes Research. Arranged in collaboration with the Göran Gustafssons Foundation, the forum is already creating considerable interest in academia and industry, with all places at the Uppsala Humanities Theatre long since booked.

Tove Fall. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

“Diabetes is a rapidly escalating global health issue that causes great suffering and devours an increasing slice of healthcare resources. Technological advances have made it easier to live with the disease but as yet there is no known cure. One important step for diabetes researchers is therefore increased collaboration, both with one another and with society at large,” says Tove Fall, professor in molecular epidemiology.

The number of patients contracting diabetes is increasing at all levels. Historically, type 2 diabetes linked to lifestyle and obesity has developed later in life; however, this boundary is being pushed back and there are reports from the United States of patients as young as three developing the disease. The past 30 years has seen a doubling of the incidence of the less common type 1 diabetes, which causes the immune system to attack our insulin-producing cells. Hardest hit has been Finland, with Sweden not far behind in the statistics.

Stellan Sandler. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

“Research is following several parallel paths. Many researchers focusing on type 1 diabetes are searching for paths to early diagnosis; for example, if we can identify a trigger factor then developing a vaccine is well within the bounds of reason. Others, my own team included, are seeking methods to reverse the course of the disease and, right now, we are looking at a possible treatment that has demonstrated beneficial results on blood sugar levels in diabetic mice; of course, before we approach healthcare providers we need to know what effects this kind of therapy has on the human immune system,” explains Stellan Sandler, professor in medical cell biology.

Swedish diabetes research has long been restricted by tight budgetary frameworks; however, the spread of the disease has attracted greater attention from research funders. A stride forward was taken in 2010 with EXODIAB, the Swedish Government’s joint strategic research initiative to provide the country’s researchers with a common platform based at Uppsala and Lund University. Barely a decade later, diabetes researchers at Uppsala University are preparing a grant application to establish a local research centre.

“We run many successful national and international collaborations but we also see clear opportunities for synergies in gathering our forces here at home. The September symposium is not only a fantastic opportunity to gain exposure for our globally preeminent researchers, it is equally an occasion to demonstrate the breadth of our expertise internally. Among other things, we will be holding a poster exhibition featuring 18 of our younger researchers, all of whom maintain a very high level of quality. If the symposium is the success we believe it will be, then the ambition is to make it a regular forum. Even before we begin, it is a significant step towards taking Uppsala’s long tradition for conducting high-quality diabetes research to the next level,” states Tove Fall.