Diabetics in the Midlands could be freed from daily insulin injections as a result of a £1 million project, launched at a Birmingham hospital yesterday.
Instead of a daily regime of injections, selected patients with Type 2 diabetes are inhaling insulin, from a device similar to those used by asthma sufferers, as part of a clinical trial at Selly Oak Hospital.
The hospital, part of University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, is leading the research being carried out in ten UK centres, as part of a global trial involving 500 diabetics.
If successful the drug could be available on the market by 2010.
The trial is part of a five-year investment package, funded by Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, which also includes a new diabetes research centre, a clinical research fellow and three part-time nurses.
Professor Stephen Gough, who is leading the trial, said this will enable the trust to pioneer and develop new procedures and treatments.
He said: "Type 2 diabetes is a massive problem which affects about 2 million people in the UK, that's just the people who know they have it.
"But there's at least another million or so diabetics out there unaware they have this condition.
"Development of new treatments that help patients control their diabetes like the inhaled insulin we're currently trialing will hopefully lead to a reduction in complications."
Diabetics are also at risk of developing heart disease or suffering strokes, if their condition is not monitored and treated effectively.
"We have an ongoing relationship with Novo Nordisk and they were looking for major centre to conduct a new clinical trial. We had suitable patients, many of whom haven't benefited from taking part in trials in this part of Birmingham before.
"Patients with Type 2 diabetes who needed extra insulin and were seen at my clinics at Selly Oak and in Hall Green were given the option of volunteering for the study, and the take up has been pretty good."
Juliet Griffith-Edwards, an administrator for Birmingham City Council, began inhaling insulin in February.
The 47-year-old, who lives in Kings Norton, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2002 after months of "endless lethargy."
"It wasn't really a surprise as my father had had diabetes for 25 years, so all I could do was take the treatment and just get on with it," said Ms Griffith-Edwards.
"I was okay with using needles but I didn't realise it was affecting people around me, who found it difficult to see, so I had to go off to toilets or wash rooms to inject my insulin. But the inhaler is making life a lot easier in that respect, people are squeamish and this doesn't attract their attention like a syringe did."
As the new research unit was unveiled, a Diabetes UK report claimed children and young people with the condition were not getting adequate care, putting them at risk of developing various complications.
The paper, published yesterday, stated that Britain has the highest number of diabetic children in Europe, but only one in four achieve good diabetes control.
It also revealed that more than 25 per cent of young people may require laser treatment for retinopathy, which can lead to blindness, and up to 40 per cent will develop microalbumia, an early warning of kidney damage.