Consultant wins prestigious NIHR Senior Investigator award for leading diabetes research

By Editor
4th April 2024

A diabetes consultant based in Sheffield whose research has played a key role in improving treatment and understanding of diabetic nerve damage has been recognised with a renowned National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Senior Investigator award.

Professor Solomon Tesfaye, a Consultant Physician/Diabetologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, was given the award in the latest round of appointments made by the NIHR.

NIHR Senior Investigators are among the most prominent researchers funded by the NIHR, the UK’s largest funder of health and care research.

The award is presented to outstanding leaders whose research has the potential to improve the future health of the nation, contribute to national growth and can develop the next generation of future health and care researchers.

A total of 43 new Senior Investigators, including 21 who will serve a second term, were appointed in the latest round of appointments.

Professor Tesfaye has played a leading role in pioneering research that has shed new light into diabetic nerve damage, a distressing and common complication of diabetes which causes numbness and an inability to perceive pain.

Without these sensations, people with diabetes are at greater risk of infection, inadvertent injuries, and amputations.

Professor Solomon Tesfaye, Research Director of Diabetes and Endocrinology, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield, said: “I am delighted and honoured to receive this distinguished award.

“This award is a testament to the fantastic efforts of the whole team in Sheffield, the many collaborators, patients, public and service users who have worked so hard to prioritise the often forgotten, but truly devastating, impact of diabetic nerve damage on millions of people around the world.”

He added: “I am proud and humbled to be joining a list of eminent senior researchers, appointed by the nation’s largest health and care research funder, and will continue to work at the highest levels to improve management and treatments for people living with diabetic nerve damage.”

His research was the first to describe how diabetic nerve damage is caused by impaired circulation of the peripheral nerves, but also involves the spinal cord and brain.

He also pioneered the use of electrical spinal cord stimulation as a last resort treatment for people with persistent diabetic nerve pain where drug treatments have failed.

This treatment is now delivered in a handful of specialist diabetes centres, including Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

A landmark study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, signified another major contribution to advancing understanding of diabetic nerve damage.

The breakthrough study, which involved 3,250 people, showed that diabetic nerve damage is caused by traditional risk factors for coronary heart disease (high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity) and not just chronically high blood sugar levels, providing avenues for the development of new treatments.

In 2014, his outstanding contribution to the field of diabetes research was recognised with the award of the prestigious Camillo Golgi Prize of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, the first for a UK scientist in over a decade.

Most recently, Professor Tesfaye has been at the helm of the award-winning Sheffield One-Stop Diabetes Screening Service that uses innovative devices for early detection of nerve damage at a point where changes in metabolism leading to diabetic nerve damage can be reversed or prevented.

The service also enables people with diabetes to access all their annual diabetes health checks, including eye and foot screening, at the same time, avoiding the need for multiple GP visits.

A brand-new study, called OCEANIC, led by Professor Tesfaye and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, has been launched to build on this research, and aims to see if early diabetic nerve damage can be reversed by managing risk factors intensively.

Other practice-changing research includes a 13-centre trial published in the Lancet showing, current first-line drugs and their combinations for painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy are equally effective.

The study also showed combination treatments led to significantly improved pain relief and are more effective than high-dose monotherapy, contrary to 2020 NICE guidelines.

These findings are expected to pave the way for changes in clinical practice in the UK in the future.

Professor Tesfaye will serve as a NIHR Senior Investigator for a four-year term.

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