Diabetes: double trouble – its effects on heart and brain

Scientists at the University of Sheffield are launching a pioneering investigation to discover how diabetes affects heart and brain function in order to help the soaring number of people living with the disease.
The serious condition currently affects three million people in the UK – experts predict this number will double to six million over the next 25 years due to an alarming increase in the number of patients developing Type 2 diabetes.
A fundamental challenge in providing effective patient care to people with diabetes arises because the disease can affect the heart and brain at the same time – but more needs to be understood about how the effects of diabetes on one can influence the function and degeneration of the other.
The University of Sheffield’s Medical School is renowned for the quality of its diabetes research and clinical care, in partnership with the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Cutting-edge imaging technology is now enabling scientists from the Medical School to accelerate ground-breaking research in diabetes, which could lead to life-changing treatments for millions of sufferers.
Magnetic Resonance (MR) expert Professor Iain Wilkinson and his team from the Academic Unit of Radiology, together with colleagues from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, will be using a pioneering 3T MR scanner to make significant advances in research into diabetes.
"Diabetes has been and is today a health issue of severe social and financial importance," said Professor Wilkinson.
"Given the massive rate of increase in its prevalence, it is likely to touch and affect the lives of so many people. Not only do alterations in the level of blood glucose cause life-threatening immediate problems, but it is thought that the compounded effects of these abnormal glucose levels lead to an increase in numerous long-term ailments. These include the risk of heart disease and stroke.”
"The multi-organ nature of diabetes that may involve both the blood circulation and nervous systems highlights the need to study both heart and brain function at the same time. Until the installation of our new scanner, this was very difficult.”
The new clinical 3T scanner located within the Royal Hallamshire Hospital was installed thanks in part to a £1 million grant from the Wellcome Trust. It replaces the previous nine-year-old scanner with a state-of-the-art system which has already allowed researchers to advance imaging techniques in the three months since installation.
The scanner has attracted funding from a wide variety of sources: from international funding bodies including European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes and the European Union; local charities such as Neurocare; and alumni funds from the University of Sheffield.
The latest gift of £280,000 came from the Garfield Weston Foundation – one of the largest and most respected philanthropic institutions in the UK.
Professor Wilkinson added: "We are enormously grateful to the Garfield Weston Foundation for laying the foundations that will enable our scientists and clinicians to press ahead with this path-breaking work, translating developments in imaging technology into much needed insights with which we hope to improve the care of people with diabetes. "By applying developments of the new technology to heart and brain imaging in a novel way, we aim to provide greater insights into various problems associated with diabetes that we currently know too little about."
Peter Agar, Director of Campaigns at the University of Sheffield, highlighted the impact of philanthropic gifts to the University.
“Imaginative and committed philanthropy is critical in enabling the University to carry out cutting-edge research and transform clinical care," he said.
"We are very grateful to the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and our other supporters for enabling this important programme to go ahead.”

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