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The award will fund research into a rare form of Type 1 diabetes which develops in children under the age of 12 months.

Exeter doctor wins prestigious diabetes research award

A University of Exeter researcher has just been awarded nearly £800,000 to find out why Type 1 diabetes develops in babies. It is hoped the research will also shed light on why Type 1 diabetes develops at any age.

Dr Richard Oram, who works at the Exeter University Medical School, has been awarded Diabetes UK’s Harry Keen Fellowship Award set up in honour of Professor Harry Keen, a pioneer in diabetes research, who sadly passed away in 2013.

The award will fund Dr Oram’s research into an extremely rare form of Type 1 diabetes which develops in children under the age of 12 months. It was thought that babies under six months did not develop Type 1 diabetes until recently when Exeter University scientists found a very rare group of children with the condition.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas and stops it from producing insulin. Dr Oram will be looking at why the immune system goes wrong in babies and hopes to pinpoint exactly when their immune systems starts behaving abnormally. It’s important to understand this because treatment to stop Type 1 diabetes this early in life may need to be different from those used to treat Type 1 diagnosed at a later stage.

It’s also hoped that by discovering when and how things go wrong in the immune system of very young children, it could help researchers find ways to stop Type 1 diabetes from progressing.

Dr Oram said, “I am extremely honoured to receive the highly prestigious Harry Keen Fellowship Award from Diabetes UK on behalf of all the team at the University of Exeter Medical School. We’re very much looking forward to getting this important study underway.”

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said, “Dr Oram’s research into why Type 1 diabetes develops in babies is key to knowing more about diabetes and how we can fight it. By funding critical research like this, we’re aiming for a world where diabetes can do no harm, and preventing yet more people developing this potentially life-threatening condition. This Award highlights our commitment to investing in the future leaders of diabetes research.”

The Diabetes UK Harry Keen Intermediate Clinical Fellowship allows outstanding healthcare professionals who have gained a PhD or equivalent to establish themselves as independent diabetes researchers.

Professor Harry Keen was one of the leading diabetes researchers of the 20th century. The Bedford Study, which he ran in 1962, led not only to the identification of 250 people with undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes, but to the first definition of being at high risk of Type 2 diabetes, which he termed "borderline diabetes".

Perhaps the highlight of his career was the leading role he played in a landmark 1978 study that showed, for the first time, that an insulin pump was technically feasible, could be tolerated by people with diabetes and could improve their blood glucose control. Today, insulin pumps are used by people with Type 1 diabetes across the world to help manage their condition.

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Date: 21 February 2017