How Our Life History Shapes Our Accumulated Risk of Diabetes: An Evolutionary Perspective

Posted on 17.12.2020

A British visiting professor will refine his theoretical models during his stay in Denmark. The goal is better diabetes prevention tailored to the individual’s life history.

Working internationally is in researchers’ DNA. In that respect, Professor Jonathan Wells of University College London is in a class of his own, and he will bring with him knowledge from research in Brazil, Peru, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nepal, Iceland, Denmark and elsewhere when he now comes to the Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen as a visiting professor.

It is the Danish Diabetes Academy (DDA) that has made this possible with a grant of DKK 225,750, and among other things this will mean that Jonathan Wells can add Greenland to the long list of places where he has gained new knowledge of why some people are at greater risk than others of developing disease.

Researching type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes
Jonathan Wells is Professor of Anthropology and Paediatric Nutrition, and during his visiting professorship he will be researching type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes.

‘By combining new evolutionary biological theories, unique Danish registries and Danish and foreign cohort studies, we want to understand how the accumulation of risk factors such as undernourishment and infections early in life, and excess weight and stress throughout life, affect the incidence of type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes later in life’, says Jonathan Wells.

The overall aim is to get a better understanding of how different environments shape a person’s future risk of diabetes and thereby, in the long term, to contribute to the development of more effective prevention strategies that will be more adaptable than in the past to the individual’s life history. Jonathan Wells points out that some risk factors are to a great extent shaped by the geographical environment we live in. For example, environments with extremes of heat, cold or altitude will promote the stress response.

Until now, most of the British anthropologist’s travels have been in hot countries, but Ilisimatusarfik, the University of Greenland, will now enter the picture, as will – beside the Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen – the University of Copenhagen and the University of Southern Denmark, where he will work with Professor Marit Jørgensen on the risk of getting diabetes in Greenland.

Jonathan Wells has been collaborating for many years with Danish researchers, not least Senior Researcher Gregers Stig Andersen of the Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen, who is to be his host. Among other things, he will take part in the supervision of Rasmus Wibæk MSc PhD’s postdoctoral work, which is also funded by the DDA. Wibæk is researching the relationship between childhood growth and risk factors for obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Name and title: Professor Jonathan CK Wells, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, University College London, UK

Awarded DKK 225,750 by the Danish Diabetes Academy.

Project title: Developing an Evolutionary Approach to Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes.

Research centres: Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen/University of Copenhagen and University of Southern Denmark

Host: Senior Researcher Gregers Stig Andersen


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