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Major prize for LU diabetes researcher

12 September 2013

With around 350 million patients worldwide, diabetes is one of the world’s major public health problems. This year’s Fernström Foundation Nordic Prize, with prize money of SEK 1 million, goes to the internationally renowned diabetes researcher Leif Groop from Lund University in Sweden.

Leif Groop’s speciality has been referred to as ‘gene fishing’. It involves fishing up the genes that contribute to diabetes in one of its forms from the human genome.

He has also done a lot of research on the different forms of the disease. Professor Groop was the first to describe a hybrid form between type 1 and type 2 diabetes called LADA, and has contributed to knowledge of several other previously unknown hybrid forms.

When Leif Groop met his first diabetes patients in the 1970s, the disease did not attract a lot of interest, and the treatments available were deficient. There have been great improvements in treatments, but they are still not good enough.

“Thirty per cent of all patients with type 1 diabetes still develop kidney problems. The proportion is lower among type 2 patients – however, they are a much larger group. In addition, there is an increased risk of visual impairment, heart attacks and foot ulcers, among other things”, he said.

For this reason, and because the large numbers of patients in China, India and other countries will never be able to afford lifelong diabetes medication, he is of the opinion that treatment is no longer a viable solution. The goal now must be to cure the disease. Pregnant women could serve as a model.

“When a woman becomes pregnant, hormone changes make her cells more resistant to insulin. To maintain blood sugar levels, her insulin production automatically triples. So the body has its own built-in mechanism that could be used”, explained Leif Groop.

In order to understand such mechanisms, detailed knowledge is needed of the origins of the disease – the proteins that the various risk genes for diabetes produce, and how these proteins, individually or in combination, affect the patient’s metabolism. In this area, there have been rapid technological developments.

“Analyses that used to take a couple of years can now be performed in a week. Ten years ago, we couldn’t have dreamt of the opportunities we have now”, he said.

In another ten years, Leif Groop believes a cure for diabetes will be in progress.

“I would be very disappointed otherwise! I think it will be possible to cure type 1 diabetes using the patient’s own stem cells, and that one or more cures for type 2 diabetes will be undergoing clinical trials. There has never been a more exciting time to be a diabetes researcher”, he said.

Contact:
Leif Groop
+46 40 39 12 02
+46 705 91 25 48
leif.groop@med.lu.se.

About Leif Groop:
Professor Leif Groop was born in Finland in 1947. After studying medicine in Switzerland, he worked as a doctor in Finland and as a researcher at Yale and in Helsinki, and has been at Lund University since 1993. He is director of the Lund University Diabetes Centre, which since its inception in 2006 has grown to a staff of almost 300 from around 40 countries. Three quarters of the staff are doctoral students or senior researchers.

Leif Groop has been involved in leading a number of major diabetes studies and registers, including the Botnia study in Finland, the Skåne Diabetes Register in Sweden, and the Andis database (All New Diabetics in Skåne). He has also received large national ‘Linnaeus’ grants and strategic research grants. He has published around 650 research articles that have been cited 36 000 times.

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About Fernström Foundation:
Shipowner Eric K. Fernström’s foundation is based at the Faculty of Medicine at Lund University. The Foundation awards an annual Nordic prize of SEK 1 million and local prizes of SEK 100 000 each to promising young researchers at Sweden’s six university medical faculties.

The prizes will be presented at the popular science event Forskningens dag on 6 November in Lund,. Sweden. Journalists who wish to can meet the prizewinners on the day of the presentation.