July 31, 2017 | Simon Jenkins
PhD student Nele Warmke was supported by the Footsteps Fund to join research into Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes, led by Professor Mark Kearney. Here Nele explains her work:
It is estimated that almost 5 million people in the UK have diabetes. Life with diabetes is challenging, not only because of regular blood sugar monitoring and medication use, but also due to its complications like blindness, kidney failure, heart attack and stroke. These complications are due to the way in which diabetes damages small and large blood vessels in many parts of the body, and whilst current treatments provide some protection, blood vessel diseases kill most people with diabetes.
Professor Mark Kearney’s research group focuses on understanding how diabetes affects blood vessels, so that we can develop more effective treatments to prevent complications of diabetes. My PhD project is looking at cells called pericytes, which form an important part of all small blood vessels, for example by preventing blood vessel leakage and regulating blood flow. We already know that high blood sugar levels in people with diabetes can damage pericytes in the retina, causing blood vessels to develop abnormally and leak or bleed, leading to visual impairment.
Diabetes is also associated with abnormalities of the blood sugar regulating hormone insulin, and whilst we know that pericytes can sense insulin, we don’t know what effect this has. My PhD is exploring the effect on insulin on pericytes, assessing whether this alters blood vessel health, and investigating whether this may be a diabetes treatment target in future.
I am glad that the University’s Footsteps Fund is supporting me on my exciting PhD adventure, and it has been an amazing journey so far. In June, I went to my first conference to present my research to experts in the field, which was a great experience! I am now spending three months at the University of Uppsala in Sweden learning new techniques required for my project, and soon hope to establish these in Leeds. I would like to thank everyone who is supporting the Footsteps Funds, which gives students like me such a fantastic opportunity. Thank you very much!