About the Diabetes Research Group
Playing a key role in local and global research.
The Diabetes Research Group aims to increase knowledge at the forefront of diabetes research and develop new approaches for diabetes therapy..
Members of the Diabetes Research Group (DRG) play a key role in research both locally and globally through senior positions in Diabetes UK and the EASD (European Association for the Study of Diabetes).
Professor Peter Flatt, head of research group, has been named as the leading insulin researcher in the UK, based on the significance and impact of his published research. This ranking was produced by Expertscape and published in association with Diabetes Times.
Professor Flatt has published over 500 original scientific papers in leading peer-reviewed journals and his work has been cited more than 18,500 times.
Our research group have established fruitful collaborations with numerous Centre’s of Excellence worldwide (see Research Network)
We aim to:
- Publish research of national and international status.
- Increase knowledge of pancreatic islet function and endocrine control of nutrient homeostasis.
- Better understand the pathophysiology of diabetes and promote new treatment options.
- Exploit intellectual property and actively pursue technology transfer to alleviate the world-wide burden of diabetes
- Contribute to the prosperity and knowledge-based economy in Northern Ireland.
- Provide a supportive and high quality training environment for research students and postdoctoral fellows and assist career progression.
- Participate in productive national and international networks with Centres of Excellence in diabetes research actively contribute to the global diabetes community.
- Promote impact through public engagement, conferences and involvement with diabetes patient organizations
- Promote awareness of diabetes and the wellbeing of individuals with diabetes.
Insulin secretion and gene therapy
Bioengineering and proteomics of candidate insulin-secreting surrogate cells suitable for unraveling the mechanisms of pancreatic beta cell function and dysfunction and paving the way for the future gene therapy of diabetes.
Antidiabetic actions of structurally modified peptides
Investigating the impact of structural modification of biologically active brain-gut peptides on the regulation of feeding, pancreatic beta cell function and anti-hyperglycaemic activity.
Discovery, targets and action of antidiabetic drugs
Characterization of novel antidiabetic agents, isolation of new compounds from natural sources, elucidation of their sites and modes of action and potential therapeutic role in promoting insulin secretion and antidiabetic actions.
Mechanisms of pancreatic beta-cell dysfunction and insulin glycation
Involvement of glucose, lipid and drug toxicity and glycation of insulin and other pancreatic beta cell proteins in insulin secretory dysfunction, insulin resistance and pathogenesis of diabetes.
The Diabetes Research Group has made several key research discoveries leading to development of intellectual property and a strong international patent portfolio for commercialisation through Innovation Ulster.
Diabetica Limited was formed by three academic co-founders (Profs Flatt, O’Harte and McClenaghan) to help commercialise research findings and develop new drugs. The co-founders won the prestiguous inaugural ACES Academic Enterprise Award for Innovation in Life Sciences in Stockholm in 2008.
DRG member research was acknowledged through the prestigious membership of the Royal Irish Academy, Nordisk Medal awards and RD Lawrence Lecturer and Distinguished Research Fellowship awards.
The DRG contributed two impact case studies in REF2014, including ‘Generation of peptide therapeutics for industry’ and the ‘Development and commercialisation of human clonal beta cells for end-user communities’.
Opportunities for recruitment
Opportunities exist for recruitment of a number of highly motivated research students and Fellows.
- Overseas personnel from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, Gambia, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan, in addition to those from the Republic of Ireland and the UK.
- Projects offered are in key areas of ongoing research, and provide a unique experience for innovative diabetes and biomedical training.
- A friendly team environment exists which has previously secured 100% PhD completion within 2-4 years registration.
- State-of-the-art equipment and expertise is available in a number of modern areas of biochemistry, cell biology, molecular biology and peptide chemistry.
- Work is conducted in an internationally recognised research environment which places considerable emphasis on peer-reviewed publication, training and career progression.
Professor John Michael Conlon
BSc in Chemistry from University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1969) and DPhil from University if Sussex (1973). After post-doctoral fellowships at University College, Dublin, Queen’s University, Belfast, Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, USA and University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Professor Conlon became Leiter (Director) of the Clinical Research Group for Gastrointestinal Endocrinology at the Max Planck Society at the University of Gottingen, Germany (1983-88) and Professor of Biochemistry at Creighton University Medical School, Omaha, USA (1989-2002). From 2002-2014, he was Professor and Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry, College of Medicine and Health Sciences of UAE University and in 2013 was appointed Visiting Professor at Ulster University. He is author of over 500 peer-reviewed publications (h-index 62) and is currently Associate Editor of Peptides.
Endocrinology of the gastrointestinal tract and pancreas with emphasis on peptide hormones from non-mammalian vertebrates
Comparative neuroendocrinology with emphasis on the molecular evolution of neuroendocrine peptides
Isolation and characterization of peptides with antimicrobial, anticancer, immunomodulatory and insulin-releasing properties from frog skin and snake venom.
Biochemistry, Peptide Chemistry, Endocrinology
Prawej Ansari received a B.Sc. (Hons) in Pharmacy with distinction from the International Islamic University Chittagong, Bangladesh in 2013. He was awarded a Masters of Pharmacy degree Magna Cum Laude from the North South University, Bangladesh in 2015. He is a registered Pharmacist since 2014 and worked as a Teaching and Research Assistant during his Master’s degree. He has published more than 25 journal articles and has served in the role of reviewer and editorial board member. Ansari joined the Diabetes Research Group in September 2016 as a PhD researcher. His research focuses on the isolation and characterization of phytochemicals with insulin releasing and glucose lowering effects for treatment of type-2 diabetes.
Supervisors : Dr Yasser Abdel-Wahab and Professor Peter Flatt
Sarah, from Ballymoney in County Antrim, graduated in 2017 from Ulster University. She gained a BSc (Hons) in Biomedical Science with a Diploma in Professional Practice with first class honours. During her university course, she completed a one-year placement in Randox Laboratories where she developed a keen interest in research and development. Sarah joined the Diabetes Research group as a PhD researcher in September 2017 to work on xenin-based peptides as potential therapeutics for type 2 diabetes.
Supervisors: Victor Gault and Nigel Irwin
Project title: Therapeutic Importance of Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoid Receptors in Type 2 Diabetes.
Description: The project focuses on investigating the use of novel cannabinoid compounds as a potential therapy for type 2 diabetes
Supervisors: Professor Aine McKillop and Professor Victor Gault
Project title: Assessing the Effectiveness of Blue Whiting Protein on Satiety and its use as a Functional Ingredient within the Diet
Description: Daniel's PhD project is about utilising and adding value to the Blue Whiting fish - the most abundantly landed fish within the UK. Blue Whiting is a small bony fish which is not often consumed here in the UK but instead is ground up and used as an agricultural fertiliser and feed. The objective is to see if crude Blue Whiting protein hydrolysates can be used as therapeutics in the area of satiety to counter metabolic disorders.
Supervisors : Professor Finbarr O'Harte and Dr Lynsey Hollywood
Natalie grew up in the United States and graduated with a bachelors in Kinesiology from Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Texas. This generated a burning interest in anatomy and pathology, leading to completion of MSc in Human Anatomy (with merit) from the University of Dundee. In September 2016, Natalie joined the Diabetes Research Group for PhD studies. Her research focuses on the mechanism of action of an alpha cell toxin and the essential role of glucagon in diabetes.
Supervisors : Professor Peter Flatt and Dr. Charlotte Moffett
Project title: Novel fatty acid receptors in islet cells as therapeutic targets for diabetes
Description: Description: G-protein coupled receptors (GPRs) are the largest family of transmembrane receptors in the body. They are involved in numerous physiological processes including glucose homeostasis. The project focuses on activation GPR55 and GPR120 and their potential as therapeutic targets for diabetes. Knockout cells for both GPR55 and GPR120 developed using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing will be used to determine agonist specificity for the activation of their respective receptors. Furthermore, the project will be focusing on identification of downstream signalling pathways initiated that regulate glucose homeostasis upon activation of GPR120 and GPR55.
Supervisors: Professor Aine McKillop and Professor Peter Flatt
Description: The aim of Aimee's research is to utilise novel venom-based peptides from the Mexican blonde tarantula, and other related tarantula species, to investigate the antidiabetic potential of these peptides.
Supervisors : Dr. Nigel Irwin, Prof. Victor Gault and Prof. Stephen McClean
Anayaa's PhD project title is "Elucidating the role of gut hormones in infertility associated with diabetes, obesity and PCOS".
Diabetes and obesity are major complications associated with infertility and PCOS. The project looks at the link between these conditions, the gut hormones that play an important role in their pathology and effects of Roux-en-Y gastric bypass for effective treatment.
Supervisors : Dr. Charlotte Moffett, Professor Peter Flatt, and Dr. Dawood Khan
Project title: Investigating the bioactive properties of a novel mushroom compound
Description: Investigating the bioactive components of the reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) mushroom, obtaining novel single molecular weight extracts and testing in vitro and in vivo as a potential therapeutic for diabetes and / or cancer. It is sponsored by Hughes Mushrooms.
Supervisors: Prof Peter Flatt and Prof Victor Gault
Ryan graduated with a Master’s Degree in pharmacy in 2014, which he obtained while studying at Queen’s University Belfast. He subsequently began his pre-registration year as a pharmacist, working in a community pharmacy in West Belfast. Upon qualification, he began working as a locum-pharmacist in the greater Belfast area. His interest in diabetes was spiked after being recruited as a consultant pharmacist for a small start-up company, who developed a novel blood-glucose monitor. This experience imparted a desire to further study diabetes, resulting in the undertaking of a PhD within the Diabetes Research Group at Ulster, which he started in September 2016. He is currently investigating the therapeutic potential of a range of novel PYY peptides, with the aim of developing a hybrid peptide with several gut-hormones.
Supervisors: Prof. Peter Flatt and Dr. Nigel Irwin
Dipak Sarnobat obtained BSc and MSc degrees with upper first class honours from Shivaji University, India. Later in 2014, he completed a Master’s degree in biotechnology at Ulster University. He also worked for a period in the insulin manufacturing industry. During the MSc project at Ulster, Dipak worked on the insulinotropic properties of peptides which fired his interest in diabetes research. Dipak is currently working on a project on treatment of type 2 diabetes using genetically engineered mice to generate insulin producing cells from non-beta cell lineages.
Supervisors: Professor Neville McClenaghan, Professor Peter Flatt and Dr Charlotte Moffett
Project title: Creation and characterisation of novel human insulin-secreting cell lines for in vitro testing and potential gene therapy of diabetes.
Supervisors : Professor Peter Flatt, Professor Neville McClenaghan
Project title: Non-classical islet peptides and paracrine interactions in the physiological and dysfunctional regulation of hormone secretion
Description: The aim of Lauren's PhD project is to identify and investigate non-classical islet peptides, in terms of the importance of their paracrine effects on the regulation of hormone secretion, and the pathogenesis of diabetes.
Supervisors: Professor Peter Flatt, Dr Yasser Abdel-Wahab and Dr Violetta Naughton
Project title: Extraction, characterization and exploitation of marine derived bioactive peptides for enhancing health.
Description: The objectives of this research are to;
- test the safety of fish protein hydrolysates using various in vitro cell assays,
- test oral administration of blue whiting protein hydrolysates in acute and chronic in vivo studies for effects on metabolic control,
- test the acute responses in vivo to synthetic peptides identified from blue whiting protein hydrolysates to better understand their mechanisms of action,
- examine the efficacy of fish protein hydrolysates in a high fat fed diet induced obese model.
Supervisors: Professor Finbarr O’Harte, Dr Philip Allsopp