Diabetes study could help hundreds in Norfolk

A multi-million-pound diabetes study is being launched in Norfolk and it could prevent hundreds of people in the county from developing the condition.

The �2.2m research study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), will screen 10,000 people in Norfolk who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and then prescribe dedicated lifestyle education on diet and exercise that could prevent hundreds of people developing the condition.

Diabetes is one of the biggest public health challenges facing the country and, if successful, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and University of East Anglia study could lead to mass screening and intervention programmes and substantial savings for the NHS.

In England it is estimated 2.4m people have the condition. About 80pc of those with diabetes in England have type 2 diabetes. In Norfolk there are about 30,000 people with diabetes and about 2,500 are newly diagnosed each year. Type 2 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in adults over the age of 40, although increasingly it is appearing in young people and young adults. Glucose builds up in the blood, as in people with type 1 diabetes, but symptoms appear more gradually and the diabetes may not be diagnosed for some years.

Study participants will undergo a simple blood test to check the level of glucose in their blood. Higher than normal glucose (known as Impaired Fasting Glucose or IFG) could mean they are in a 'pre-diabetes' phase and are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. A group of those at risk of developing type 2 diabetes will then be given help to improve diet and exercise levels in order to see if preventative changes to their lifestyle can help reduce the risk of them developing the condition.

A smaller study, called the UEA IFG programme, was given �800,000 funding from the NIHR in 2008 to test the concept.

Study chief investigator Professor Mike Sampson said: 'This is an excit-ing study that holds a lot of promise for one of the big public health challenges of our time. The cost of diabetes care to the NHS is rising rapidly and if we can demonstrate that an interventional programme can help people from developing the condition, the savings in terms of the human cost, and the financial cost to the NHS will be substantial. We think that mass screening and intervention programmes to prevent diabetes could well benefit from having people with type 2 diabetes provide some of the training and support, and that it will be more efficient to deliver this in group training, so people can support each other.'

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People living in Norfolk and who are at risk of type 2 diabetes will be written to by their GP asking if they wish to volunteer for the screening programme. At risk means age 40 upwards with a BMI of over 30, and with a family history of diabetes.

Most participants are expected to have normal blood glucose. Researchers expect that 11pc will be in the 'pre-diabetes' phase and three per cent will then be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Volunteers will then be randomly allocated to a control group or an intervention group where the aim will be for people to achieve seven per cent weight loss through a better diet and exercise. These volunteers will receive education from sports physiotherapists and nutritionists. All participants will have blood samples taken at the start of the study and then at six, 12, 24 and 40 months.

The study will also recruit up to 50 people who already have type 2 diabetes to act as Diabetes Prevention Mentors (DPMs) to the study participants. Participants will also be randomly assigned to an intervention group with DPM input, an intervention group without DPMs, and a control group.

More about the Norfolk Diabetes Prevention Study is at www.norfolk diabetespreventionstudy.nhs.uk