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Treatment research project

Developing new drugs to combat hypoglycaemia in type 1 diabetes

Dr Beall’s research will test whether new drugs developed and made at the University of Exeter can reduce the risk of a severe hypo by restoring the body’s ability to sense hypoglycaemia.
Content last reviewed and updated: 06.07.2023
Dr Craig Beall

Dr Craig Beall at the University of Exeter

Overview

Up to 30 per cent of people with type 1 have some degree of hypoglycaemia unawareness, meaning that they don’t develop, or don’t recognise, the symptoms of a hypo. This can significantly increase their risk of a severe hypo.

Dr Beall’s research will test whether new drugs developed and made at the University of Exeter can reduce this risk by restoring the body’s ability to sense hypoglycaemia.

What will Dr Beall do?

Dr Beall will focus on the effect of hydrogen sulfide in the body. Hydrogen sulfide is gas produced within the body to help keep its cells working normally. However, in type 1 diabetes, hydrogen sulfide levels drop, which is thought to make managing glucose levels more difficult.

Previous research has also shown that drugs that increase the body’s levels of hydrogen sulfide can activate a process the body uses to detect hypoglycaemia.

Dr Beall will test whether new drugs developed at his university can help reduce hypoglycaemia in rats with diabetes, by increasing their sensitivity to hypos.

These drugs also have anti-inflammatory properties, and so could also help to protect against some of the complications linked to type 1 diabetes, such as cardiovascular disease.

How will this research help people with type 1?

People with hypoglycaemia unawareness are six to eight times more likely to have a severe hypo, where they need help to bring their levels back to a safe range.

Worryingly, the rate of hypoglycaemia unawareness has not changed in the last 20 to 30 years, despite the advent of more tailored insulins and continuous glucose monitoring technology.

Dr Beall’s work could lead to clinical trials of new drugs that restore the brain’s awareness of hypoglycaemia, saving up to 30 per cent of people with type 1 diabetes from the fear of a sudden, severe hypo – and enabling them to manage their blood glucose levels more effectively.

It could have the added benefit of reducing the risk of some complications, such as cardiovascular disease, in people with type 1.

Is JDRF funding any other research like this?

In the UK, we’re funding Professors Stephanie Amiel and Pratik Choudhary to find out if a talking therapy programme can ‘re-wire’ the brain and restore hypo awareness in people with type 1.

We also support Professor Rory McCrimmon’s research into whether high-intensity exercise can improve hypo awareness and also improve the body’s response to hypos.

And we fund Dr Paul Weightman-Potter, also at the University of Exeter, to study the way the brain detects hypos, to find new ways to treat hypoglycaemia unawareness.

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