Professor Andrew Hattersley

Published on: 6 December 2016

A world-leading diabetes expert at the University of Exeter Medical School has won a prestigious international prize of 6 million Danish Kroner (£685,000) in recognition of his research and impact on treatment.

Professor Andrew Hattersley, Professor of Human Genetics at the University and Consultant Physician at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, has been awarded the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD)–Novo Nordisk Foundation Diabetes Prize for Excellence. The prize recognises Professor Hattersley’s extraordinary contribution in the field, and outstanding research to the understanding of diabetes, its disease mechanisms and its complications.

Throughout his career, Professor Hattersley and his team have developed a profound understanding of the complexity of diabetes. He has led research into monogenic diabetes – a type of diabetes that is caused by a single genetic mutation. His findings have helped his team revolutionise treatment for patients.

Professor Hattersley said: “It is a great honour to receive this prestigious award. I have been very lucky to work with superb colleagues in Exeter over the past 21 years. This award recognises their outstanding efforts as much as my own. It has been very exciting to see the science of gene discovery have a direct impact on patient care.”

Monogenic diabetes results because one of the three billion bases in a patient’s genetic code is altered. Trying to find the cause of this type of diabetes is like looking for one spelling mistake in a library full of books. Professor Hattersley and his colleagues in Exeter have found the single altered base in three billion for 15 different genetic types of diabetes.

Finding genetic cause of the diabetes has led to the recognition of new subtypes of diabetes that have unique clinical features, with specific requirements for their treatment and clinical care. The most dramatic example is that some patients diagnosed with diabetes in the first six months of life who were expected to be on insulin injections for their whole lives have been shown by the Exeter researchers to get better control of their blood glucose with tablets. These results have meant that treatment decisions are based on the gene mutation an individual has, thus providing a precision medicine approach to this subgroup of diabetes, revolutionising diagnosis and treatment worldwide.

Andrew Hattersley personifies a complete clinician scientist who has transformed our understanding, diagnosis and treatment of monogenic diabetes

Professor Juleen Zierath, President of the EASD

To date, the team has identified 13 of the 24 known gene mutations that cause monogenic diabetes.
The Exeter laboratory, a partnership between the University and the RD&E, now offers free genetic testing to babies diagnosed in the first six months of life worldwide. To date, they have tested 1,750 people from 87 countries, with more than 800 able to switch to tablets.

The Prize is awarded in collaboration between the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) and the Novo Nordisk Foundation. A special prize award committee established by the EASD decides the winner of the Prize, and the Novo Nordisk Foundation donates the funds accompanying the Prize.

Professor Juleen Zierath, professor and President of the EASD, said: “Andrew Hattersley personifies a complete clinician scientist who has transformed our understanding, diagnosis and treatment of monogenic diabetes. He is an obvious recipient of this prestigious prize.”

Birgitte Nauntofte, CEO of the Novo Nordisk Foundation, said: “In awarding this major prize for diabetes research, the Novo Nordisk Foundation wants to recognize the absolutely best researchers within this important field. I would like to congratulate Andrew Hattersley on his outstanding achievements, which include not only making new discoveries but also translating research results into clinical practice to benefit people with diabetes.”

The Prize is accompanied by DKK 6 million (£685,000) – of which DKK 1 million (£114,000) is a personal award and the remaining DKK 5 million (£570,000) is for research purposes. This makes it the world’s biggest personal diabetes-related research prize. The Prize was officially awarded at a ceremony at the 52nd EASD Annual Meeting in Munich, Germany.

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