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“It helped me transform my lifestyle” – East of England ‘TrialBlazer’ champions ground-breaking diabetes research

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Jodie Reynolds, a care home worker from Wyton, Cambridgeshire, took part in a gestational diabetes study at Hinchingbrooke Hospital in 2021. She has since been championing gestational diabetes research by taking part in the National Institute for Health and Care Research’s (NIHR) ‘TrialBlazers’ campaign.

Jodie, 29, discovered that she had gestational diabetes, a condition which affects around 35,000 pregnancies annually in the UK, when her blood glucose levels were very high while she was pregnant with her third child.

Gestational diabetes can cause a baby to grow larger than usual, which can lead to birth difficulties and increased likelihood of C-section. Women with gestational diabetes are at high risk of type 2 diabetes later in life. Lifestyle changes can reduce this risk but can be difficult to sustain in pregnancy or with a new baby.

Jodie was referred to a diabetes midwifery team and a dietician, who invited her to join the DiGest (Dietary intervention in Gestational diabetes) study. The DiGest study is funded by Diabetes UK and supported by the NIHR. The study aims to assess if a reduced-calorie diet for 8-10-weeks in late pregnancy can lead to healthier mums and healthier babies, by reducing childbirth complications and preventing maternal diabetes long-term.

Having considered the information given by the DiGest team, led by Dr Claire Meek from the Wellcome-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge, Jodie decided she would take part. She said, “I was nervous at first, but the team made me feel so at ease. I had all the information I needed to make the decision and I knew that I wanted to go ahead with the trial.”

The research team sent boxes of premade, reduced-calorie food for all Jodie’s meals, including snacks, from 30 weeks into her pregnancy until going into labour. Throughout the trial, Jodie was required to keep a food diary and use Bluetooth scales and a glucose monitor to collect data for the research team.

Jodie said, “It meant I had one less thing to worry about. All my meals came ready for me to heat up when they arrived. I could just concentrate on caring for my children and myself after such an unexpected diagnosis. The trial gave me a sense of control that I really needed.”

“The trial helped me to avoid having to go on insulin,” said Jodie, “which was a concern of mine.”

Jodie’s third baby was born healthy and the birth itself went smoothly. Jodie has also made lifestyle changes as a result of the trial. She said:

“It taught me a lot about portion control. I have portion plates and bowls now, which help me to stay healthy. I learned more about balancing my meals, which was excellent. The trial has really helped me transform my lifestyle.”

Jodie’s experience on the DiGest study was overwhelmingly positive, and she would recommend others take part in research trials if possible. She said:

“I’m very happy that I took part and would encourage other people to give clinical trials a go. The research team in Cambridge are amazing and always there for you when you need them. You’re free to pull out of the trial if you don’t want to continue.”

Jodie even featured in the NIHR’s TrialBlazer campaign, which celebrated the thousands of people who take part in research all over the UK and encouraged people to participate in clinical trials if they can. You can watch Jodie’s video on Twitter and find out more about the campaign on the NIHR’s Be Part of Research website at www.bepartofresearch.nihr.ac.uk/trialblazers.

The NIHR funds health and care research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care. In the East of England region alone, more than 88,800 people took part in more than 800 studies on the NIHR research portfolio over 2021/22.

Dr Claire Meek, Consultant, Diabetes in Pregnancy Service at Addenbrooke’s and The Rosie Hospitals, who leads the DiGest study, thanked Jodie and others who take part in diabetes research, saying:

“Taking part in clinical research is so important. It’s wonderful that the DiGest study has made such a difference to Jodie’s health. I’m so grateful to our DiGest participants, hospital teams, Diabetes UK, the NIHR and my colleagues here at the Institute of Metabolic Science and MRC Epidemiology Unit for making this important trial possible.”

Helen Macdonald, Chief Operating Officer at the NIHR Clinical Research Network East of England, said:

“We are so grateful to everyone in the East of England who has signed up to be part of research. Without your vital participation, ground-breaking trials such as Jodie’s would not be possible. With your help, we are able to make life-changing discoveries through clinical trials.”

Find out more about the DiGest study or to find out how to get involved in wider research visit www.bepartofresearch.uk.