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Diabetes mellitus: the 21st century epidemic

As lifestyles change and Europe's population grows increasingly older, the occurrence of diabetes is also rising at a rate that is alarming many scientists, who are now campaigning for more investment in research for effective strategies to ward off diabetes.

According to a r...
As lifestyles change and Europe's population grows increasingly older, the occurrence of diabetes is also rising at a rate that is alarming many scientists, who are now campaigning for more investment in research for effective strategies to ward off diabetes.

According to a recent report, published by the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), part of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, the present trend will assume epidemic proportions and consume more than one-third of healthcare budgets in less than 20 years if 'vigorous steps' are not taken.

Diabetes mellitus is a global problem. In North America, for example, diabetes mellitus and its complications account for approximately one-third of the healthcare budget for elderly citizens. In Europe, the Mediterranean, and some Middle Eastern countries, the figures are approaching similar levels. And in many of these countries at least 20% of people older than 65 have diabetes. As life expectancy increases then, experts predict that diabetes is set to become one of Europe's most costly diseases. Now they have identified the problem, researchers from across Europe are campaigning to raise the profile of diabetes research.

Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disease characterised by high levels of sugar in the blood, which may be caused by insulin deficiencies and resistance to the action of insulin. It is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, blindness and loss of liver function affecting 4% - 5% of Europe's population.

There are two main forms of diabetes mellitus. The most serious is known as 'DM1', but the most prevalent, 'DM2' accounts for around 90% of all cases and its incidence has doubled since the 1980s. Scientists are now predicting the figures will double again by 2010.

To minimise this potential catastrophe, the IPTS scientists are urging medics working in this field to fix their sites on research for the prevention of, and to delay the onset of, diabetes and to slow down the progress of its complications:

'Intensive research in a framework of international cooperation is therefore needed in order to explore the most (cost) effective ways to increase the share of adequately treated patients, [and] expand the use of known preventative and therapeutic measures alongside the search for improved and new technologies'.

Their suggestions on how this might be achieved are detailed in the IPTS Report, which is available from the address below.
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