Oxford strengthens international collaboration to solve epidemic global health problem | University of Oxford
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Oxford strengthens international collaboration to solve epidemic global health problem

Two innovative Oxford research programmes will explore the relationship between metabolism and inflammation in metabolic diseases. Obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes (T2D) and associated cardiovascular disease (CVD) – all metabolic diseases – are an epidemic global health problem.

Obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes (T2D) and associated cardiovascular disease (CVD) – all metabolic diseases – are an epidemic global health problem.

With almost 400 million people worldwide suffering from T2D and total deaths from the condition due to rise by more than 50% in the next 10 years, research which addresses the causes of these diseases and delivers effective treatment for them is of paramount importance. So two Oxford teams are beginning research programmes, funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Current treatments for metabolic diseases target the metabolic side of the conditions, addressing the symptoms but leaving the causes largely untreated – we want to close this gap.

Professor Claudia Monaco, Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology

The Immunometabolism Research Programme led by Professor Claudia Monaco aims to deliver fundamental knowledge about inflammation in metabolic diseases, as well as identify effective solutions for new medications and prevention strategies.

Metabolism denotes the processes by which the body gets or makes energy from food and store it in adipose tissue for release upon demand. In metabolic diseases such as T2D and CVD these processes are disturbed.

Metabolic diseases are associated with inflammation but little is known about this relationship. Inflammation in these conditions differs from other types of inflammation in that it is sustained and of low grade, which blurs typical patterns of disease and makes it a very difficult subject to study.

The project, which is due to start in May 2016, will focus on discovering new pathways – series of reactions within cells – and molecules that are important in detecting alterations in metabolism, as well as understanding how immune cells work in metabolic diseases.

If successful we may open up new therapeutic possibilities that go beyond merely treating blood sugar and instead target biologically relevant pathways and processes.

Professor Robin Choudhury, Radcliffe Department of Medicine

Professor Claudia Monaco said: 'This is a huge opportunity to explore inflammation in the metabolic process, in an innovative way. Current treatments for metabolic diseases target the metabolic side of the conditions, addressing the symptoms but leaving the causes largely untreated – we want to close this gap. With the support of Novo Nordisk Foundation, our project brings together people with key skills working to solve this urgent health puzzle, focusing on the inflammation aspect of disease to deliver intelligent drug design and new solutions which really impact on disease.'

Meanwhile, Professor Robin Choudhury will lead a project going from big data analysis to find a causal relationship between inflammatory factors and the development of type 2 diabetes and related disorders, to analysis of molecular and cellular mechanisms, to intervention studies.

Professor Choudhury says: 'The goal of the programme is to revise the way we regard diabetes spectrum diseases by learning more about the role of inflammation in the pathogenesis of the disease and, in particular, the vascular complications.  If successful we may open up new therapeutic possibilities that go beyond merely treating blood sugar and instead target biologically relevant pathways and processes.'

Together, the two projects have received £7.8 million of funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation to bring together 24 experts in the fields of metabolism and inflammation from Oxford, the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.