Welsh Government
The Diabetes Research Unit Cymru

Diabetes experts across Wales join forces to tackle a fast-growing health problem

16 November 2015

Researchers from across Wales are joining forces in a new research network funded by Health and Care Research Wales to tackle diabetes, which already affects 7% of the country’s population.

Diabetes is set to rise dramatically across the world, partly because of the growth in obesity.

The Diabetes Research Unit Cymru (DRU Cymru), based at Swansea University’s Medical School, brings together researchers, clinicians and patients across Wales to improve the quality of diabetes research and care.

Diabetes and related metabolic conditions are a leading cause of ill-health and premature death across the UK. The cost to the NHS of treating diabetes is enormous.

  • Diabetes affects around 7% of the Welsh population, and the rate is rising
  • Over 20% of hospital in-patients in Wales have diabetes
  • Diabetes accounts for more than 10% of NHS spending
  • Over half of all adults in Wales are overweight or obese, a major cause of diabetes
  • A quarter of children in Wales are obese – a higher rate than both England or Scotland 

The DRU Cymru network supports a wide variety of research projects currently under way across Wales, covering different aspects of diabetes prevention and care, including:

  • Diabetic Retinopathy
  • Exercise and Lifestyle
  • Type 1 Diabetes
  • Obesity and Bariatric Surgery
  • Psychological and Social Aspects of Diabetes
  • New Therapies and Devices

Research projects take place in different settings across Wales, including GP surgeries and hospitals. For some research, such as clinical trials, advanced clinical research and laboratory facilities are essential.  

Prof Steve Bain from Swansea University Medical School, who leads the network, said:

Diabetes is becoming a huge health issue in Wales. Both type 1 diabetes, which usually affects children and younger people, and type 2 diabetes, which develops in older adults, are on the rise.

The Diabetes Research Unit Cymru aims to bring together people in Wales who are interested in tackling all aspects of diabetes and this includes patients and the general public. The aim is to produce a genuine collaboration which can lead to a speedy impact on the lives of people affected by diabetes whilst also having a strong focus on prevention of this condition.

Dai Williams, Director of the patient charity Diabetes UK Cymru said:

There is some incredible research happening right here in Wales that could benefit the 177,000 people who are currently living with the condition. The new Diabetes Research Unit Cymru will really help to showcase the incredible advances that are being made right on our doorsteps.

This is a great way to keep researchers and people living with the condition in touch and promote diabetes research in Wales.

I would encourage everyone living with diabetes to take a look at the Diabetes Research Unit Cymru website, see what research is happening in their area and think about how they can get involved. Together we can help people with the condition live long, healthy lives.

People with diabetes are closely involved in the work of DRU Cymru, to help ensure that the research takes account of their perspective. A Public Reference Panel is being established to provide a forum for members of the public to be more involved in the work of the Unit, helping to ensure the quality and success of diabetes research across Wales. The Reference Panel will be involved in providing advice and support to researchers on things such as study design and implementation, providing lay summaries of research findings and raising awareness of the research being undertaken. Another way people can get involved is by taking part in research, for example, by responding to questionnaires and surveys, or taking part in clinical trials.

Someone who got involved recently is Helen from Swansea. Helen has type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease and was invited to take part in a study looking to evaluate a new therapy for people with type 2 diabetes. She said:

The study involved injecting a medicine once a week for 2 years. Actually, I may not have been taking the active medicine; I may have had the dummy medicine ("placebo"). I'll find out when the study completely finishes. Initially I visited the Clinical Research Unit quite regularly so the research team could make sure I was OK. I was a little sick in the beginning and I did think "is this worth it" but I stuck with the study and I'm so glad I did.

To me, it doesn't really matter which I was taking, since taking part in the study has been so beneficial. I've lost 4½ stone in weight, my HbA1c has fallen to a level where I wouldn't be classed as diabetic anymore and my kidney tests have remained stable.

Before I took part in the study I had put on quite a lot of weight and really didn't like to go out. In fact, I think that I had become depressed. Now, I've had a complete lifestyle change! I follow a healthy eating plan with my husband, who also has type 2 diabetes, I go swimming and I have a social life again. The study hasn't done all this but it has motivated me to make those changes.