Funding Boost for Research Into Diabetes and COVID-19

Peter Russell

July 07, 2020

Three charities have joined forces to distribute grants to UK researchers examining the impact of COVID-19 on people with diabetes.

Diabetes UK, JDRF, and Moorfields Eye Charity have pledged a total of £315,000 to projects examining which people with diabetes are more at risk from COVID-19, the specific effects for people with type 1 diabetes, and the effects of treatment disruption caused by the pandemic for diabetes patients with vision problems.

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK, said: "By understanding how the virus affects people with diabetes, and who might be more at risk of poor outcomes, we will be better able to provide the care, information, and reassurance they need during this difficult time."

Data from England published in May revealed that around 1 in 4 patients who had died in hospital after being diagnosed with COVID-19 also had diabetes.

It also found that people with type 1 diabetes had a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than those with type 2, or other types of diabetes.

Diabetes UK and JDRF, the type 1 diabetes charity, have co-funded a study into how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting people with type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes Research

Prof Kathleen Gillespie and her team at the University of Bristol will work with a research group in Milan which has developed a test that can detect coronavirus antibodies in a small sample of blood.

The test will be offered to around 5000 people already participating in ongoing studies of type 1 diabetes, allowing Prof Gillespie to estimate how many people with the condition have contracted COVID-19.

Participants will also be asked to share their experiences of COVID-19 and lockdown – including whether they have been shielding, if they have had any COVID-19 symptoms, and how their blood glucose levels have reacted.

Prof Gillespie said: "Although we know that people with type 1 diabetes are at greater risk if they develop COVID-19, we know very little about how this translates to people's experiences of the pandemic.

"With this research, we hope to get a much clearer idea of how the type 1 diabetes community has been affected by coronavirus, and how they can be kept safe and well in future."

High Risk Groups

John Dennis from the University of Exeter was awarded a share of the funding for a research project aimed at understanding which people with diabetes have a greater risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19.

The independent research fellow in medical statistics will combine and study large health databases to look in detail at different characteristics of people with diabetes, such as their age, and blood sugar levels.

"I think 25% of people in hospital with COVID-19 have diabetes, which is more than you'd expect, based on the standard demographics of people admitted to hospital," he told Medscape News UK.

The ultimate aim of the research was to "provide tools for clinicians to be able to risk stratify people with diabetes after they've been admitted to hospital".

Dr Dennis said the findings could be invaluable to the NHS "in the context of a potential second wave over winter when hospital beds might be at a premium".

He said the £65,000 award was welcome, particularly in the light of fund raising difficulties seen by medical and health charities caused by the pandemic.

Risk Factors

Funds were also awarded to the University of Glasgow  for a study into the effects of COVID-19 on risk factors for diabetes complications, including blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and bodyweight.

A team led by Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine, will use health records to look at the impact of the pandemic on these risk factors and rates of diabetes complications over the next 2 years. 

They also aim to identify which factors, such as age or ethnicity, put people at higher risk of complications, to help reduce inequalities in treatment.

Sight Loss

Diabetes UK and Moorfields Eye Charity have jointly funded a project looking at the impact as a result of the pandemic of deferred treatment on diabetic macular oedema (DMO).

Dr Ranjan Rajendram and colleagues will study individuals with DMO who were scheduled to have anti-vascular endothelial growth factor therapy (anti­VEGF) at Moorfields Eye Hospital but who had their treatment deferred due to the pandemic.

The study aims to improve the care given to people with diabetes during the current, and any future, lockdown, and potentially prevent sight loss.

Dr Robertson said: "With DMO being one of the leading causes of loss of vision in people with diabetes, it is key that we understand what impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the eye health of people with this condition as missed checks and treatments can have devastating consequences."


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