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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a serious long-term disease that gets worse over time. In people with diabetes, the sugar level in the blood, which is also known as the “blood glucose level,” is too high. Normally, a hormone called insulin allows the human body to use sugar from food and drink for energy or to store it for future use. However, in someone with diabetes, either their pancreas is not making enough insulin or their body is not responding properly to the insulin. People with diabetes are at greater risk of a number of serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and nerve damage.

As of 2015, there were over 30 million people in the United States who had diabetes. As of 2014, over 420 million people around the world had diabetes, and it is estimated that by 2030, over 550 million people will be living with the condition.

Main types of diabetes

  • Type 1 diabetes: when the pancreas stops producing insulin.
  • Type 2 diabetes: high blood sugar levels caused by the body not responding properly to insulin, or the pancreas not releasing enough insulin.
  • Prediabetes: when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. Prediabetes can in time lead to type 2 diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes: a form of diabetes affecting some pregnant women. It can be caused by changes in hormones that make the body less able to use insulin properly.

Advances in diabetes treatment

There are currently more than 500 potential medicines being researched for the treatment of diabetes. Advancing knowledge has increased awareness of how diabetes, weight gain, and risk for heart disease are related. Today's medicines that treat diabetes must address all these effects and risks to be effective and safe for long-term use.

Promising areas of research to advance diabetes therapy include developing an effective vaccine acting on patients' cellular makeup. A number of devices are also in development to better control blood sugar levels.

You can get involved

There are opportunities for people with diabetes and healthy volunteers to contribute to diabetes clinical research, and potentially change the future treatment of this life-limiting condition.


The resources below provide further information on diabetes and advice on taking part in clinical research.

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