EASD 2023: At the interface between diabetes research and clinical practice

PhD student Maddy Smith shares what she learned from attending a recent international conference on diabetes research.

An exciting time for metabolic health

Weight loss drugs such as Wegovy and Ozempic have made many headlines and sparked a frenzy on social media in recent months. Not only is their potential to “end obesity” being unpacked in the media, but also their issues such as side effects, weight regain after stopping taking it, and supply shortages. Since obesity is a main risk factor for type 2 diabetes, these new drugs have implications for diabetes treatment – in fact, some of them were originally developed to treat diabetes and weight loss was noticed to be a concurrent effect.

A selection of news headlines about drugs to treat obesity.



Is a little bit of alcohol good for you?

Some things seem to be too good to be true.

The idea that life’s little pleasures – a glass of red wine, for example – might be good for us is seductive. Given that most public health advice is simultaneously common sense and mildly dispiriting – eat healthily, exercise, don’t smoke – the possibility that we don’t have to live like Spartans to live long and healthily lives is surely good news… But is that really the case?

In this blog post, first published on the Institute of Alcohol Studies blog, Professor Marcus Munafò and Professor George Davey Smith of MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit explain why confounding factors skew studies to suggest a small amount of alcohol might have health benefits, and how Mendelian randomization has debunked this common myth. (more…)

A dashing dabble in democracy: An epidemiologist’s week with the Royal Society pairing scheme

Maria Sobczyk shares her experience of being part of the Royal Society pairing scheme, which links scientists with people at the heart of UK policy making

“Yes, Minister” – truth, fiction, or something in between? I have always been fascinated by the inner workings of politics. So, when an opportunity arose to combine this interest with my role as a post-doc in health data science, I promptly applied for the 2023 edition of the Royal Society pairing scheme, which offers a week-long experience in Westminster.

Bristol West MP Thangam Debonnaire talking with Dr Maria Sobczyk at a parliamentary reception.
Dr Maria Sobczyk talking with Bristol West MP Thangam Debonnaire at a parliamentary reception


Immune cells as biomarkers of depression 

Éimear Foley discusses a new systematic review examining links between inflammation and depression.

Depression is an illness that is estimated to affect around 10-20% of the world’s population in a lifetime. However, for many people, current treatment strategies do not work sufficiently well. Depression is a multifactorial condition and there is mounting evidence that several biological and non-biological mechanisms may be at play.

One aetiological factor of increasing interest is inflammation. Prof Golam Khandaker, Head of the Immunopsychiatry Programme at the University of Bristol’s MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, tries to illustrate this point by asking people to think of the symptoms they experience when they have a cold or flu. Along with a runny nose and a cough, people often experience fatigue, a change to usual appetite or sleeping patterns, and/or a reduced ability to experience pleasure. He points out that these are also typical symptoms of major depressive disorder. Moreover, were you to have a blood sample taken, you would also find evidence of high levels of inflammation due to the activation of an immune response. Recent research suggests that up to a quarter of all depressed patients consistently show evidence of inflammation in their blood, as defined by C-reactive protein levels. Other studies have supported these findings, showing that depression may be causally linked to elevated concentrations of proinflammatory cytokines (i.e., proteins often used as markers of inflammation), like interleukin 6.


World Cancer Day – An interview with Professor Richard Martin discussing interdisciplinary cancer research

Richard Martin was interviewed by Caroline Bull, Associate Editor of PLOS ONE, in a post that was first published on the EveryONE blog.

World Cancer Day, held every 4 February, is a global initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) to raise awareness, improve education and catalyze action. This year’s theme is ‘Close the Care Gap: Uniting our voices and taking action’.

Each year, PLOS ONE publishes more than 1000 cancer-related research articles from authors across the globe. In celebration of this year’s theme, we interview PLOS ONE author Richard Martin, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Bristol and co-lead researcher of the Integrative Cancer Epidemiology Programme. We ask how Open Science can contribute to interdisciplinary cancer research and how engagement with patient communities has increased the impact of their research. (more…)

Genetic epidemiology for African scientists

By Emma Anderson, Apostolos Gkatzionis, Lucy Goudswaard, Ruth Mitchell, Chin Yang Shapland, Kaitlin Wade and Venexia Walker

In recent years, there has been an explosion of research in Mendelian randomization (MR). It is a useful tool for inferring causality between exposures and outcomes of interest using genetic data. The Mendelian randomization conferences organised by the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit (IEU) regularly provide an opportunity to explore these issues.Participants in a meeting.

In 2018, one of the conference attendees was Dr. Sarah Atkinson from Kemri Wellcome Trust in Kilifi, Kenya. As the conference progressed, she began chatting with Dr Ruth Mitchell and the idea emerged of IEU hosting an MR course for African scientists. Sarah applied and was awarded funding from the Wellcome Trust, which was supplemented by the IEU, to host six experts in MR from the IEU to teach a five-day course on Mendelian randomization to African researchers in Kilifi. (more…)

Helping the public explore key health questions

By Emma Hazelwood and Amy Campbell

‘What do you think is most important for our health – our genetics or the environment we live in; nature or nurture?’

This was a key question that we posed to members of the public as part of a roundtable discussion on the topic of “Inherited Health”. We hosted our roundtable as part of the recent FUTURES public engagement festival and our event was attended by approximately 25 members of the public including retired professors, patent lawyers, and civil servants. (more…)