Researchers at The University of Nottingham are among a network of European scientists who have been awarded €12.7 million (around £8.7 million) for a study into the relationship between lack of exercise and the development of diabetes — and the health benefits of regular exercise in its prevention and cure.
It is the first time the European Commission has committed such a large amount of funding to this research topic and recognises that the European Union and the rest of the world is faced with an epidemic of obesity and its often related disease Type II diabetes. Unless some thing is done the cost of caring for these conditions and their associated problems, kidney, heart disease and blindness, could swamp our healthcare systems.
Although there are genetic factors which increase the risk of developing obesity and Type II diabetes, a very rapid rise in the past 20 years must be due to environmental factors such as increased consumption of processed food, especially high fat food with low fibre content, and a reduction in the amount of exercise taken throughout life.
The aim of the EXGENESIS research project is to improve our understanding of the underlying mechanisms that could be treated by diet and exercise, to identify better exercise and diet regimes and possibly discover new targets for medicines that could help people to achieve a more healthy lifestyle.
The new study involves 26 laboratories in 13 different European countries, and includes a team led by Professor Michael Rennie based at The University of Nottingham’s Medical School in Derby, which will receive a £205,000 share of the funding over the next five years.
The consortium will use a number of approaches including molecular and cell biology, epidemiological and genetic studies of populations and physiological studies of human volunteers and patients.
Professor Rennie and his team are particularly interested in the idea that exercise helps to decrease the harmful effects of dietary fat on the ability of muscle to handle dietary glucose. The idea is that a combination of a high fat diet and infrequent exercise cause changes in the way in which fat is burned within muscle. This leads to the build-up of some fatty products which diminish the effect of the hormone insulin in helping to store glucose in the muscle.
The team’s laboratories at the Graduate Entry Medical School, based at Derby City General Hospital, are equipped with state-of-the-art technology for the investigation of human metabolism and how it can go wrong.
Professor Rennie said: "We are going to probe the body’s metabolic system under different circumstances — after short and long-term exposure to high fat diets and exercise in the untrained and trained state, both in normal healthy patients and in patients with Type II diabetes and also those who are likely to develop it, such as their relatives or women with polycystic ovarian disease."
The consortium includes companies in the areas of food production, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology who will ensure that if particular enzymes are identified which might be susceptible to targeting by new drugs these can be pursued.
The EXGENESIS project is funded under the EC’s Framework 6 scheme as an Integrated Project.