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Driving diabetes research forward

Diabetes, a major health challenge for the 21st century, has reached global epidemic proportions, and prevalence is expected to rise. While there is no cure, research has resulted in treatments that can improve quality of life.

Health

Europe is well placed to play a leading role in building upon these advances. Success however will depend not only on increased funding but also on more rational use of funds and better coordination. This was the starting point of an EU-funded project called 'Road map for diabetes research in Europe' (Diamap), which aimed to chart the future of diabetes research in Europe for the benefit of the patient. Diamap's ultimate goal was to deliver a report comprising strategic maps and studies from seven sub-groups to guide investment and suggest improvements in diabetes research coordination. The project also promised to deliver a website and database on diabetes research. Before beginning the road maps, however, a survey was undertaken of the current state of play in European diabetes research, and a strategic road-mapping exercise was undertaken. Individuals with diabetes were also asked to be represented on the projects' steering committee, alongside academia and industry. Demographic trends and lifestyle factors were then considered in developing the road maps, as well as population ageing. Ethical issues as well as health economics and public health were also taken into account. Information was also gleaned from questionnaires returned by investors and major funding agencies across Europe. The end result has been seven road maps, each focusing on a particular area of diabetes research. The seven areas covered are genetics/epidemiology, islets, pathophysiology/metabolism/integrated physiology, clinical science and care, microvascular complications, macrovascular complications and finally horizontal issues. Each road map examines the major advances made in its particular field, marking milestones along the way and ultimately leading to a goal for improved treatment or prevention of diabetes and its complications. The steering committee and other groups have considered the feasibility of these milestones, identified roadblocks preventing progress and suggested opportunities for European science. Milestones considered important for investment have also been prioritised. The Diamap project has also put forward recommendations, calling for greater cross-fertilisation between academia and the private sector and closer cooperation between researchers, patients and healthcare providers. Coordination of the European diabetes research effort, it says, may best be achieved by a central 'virtual institute' or academy. The project, which was completed in September 2010, also concludes however that it cannot succeed in the long term unless there is constant monitoring of progress. To this end, databases must be maintained and constantly updated, to ensure that European diabetes research continues to move in the right direction.

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