The European Commission is spending €12.7 million on research into the relationship between diet, lack of exercise and the development of diabetes to improve understanding of the rapid rise in this disease in recent years.
It is the first time the European Commission has committed such a large amount of funding to this research topic.
Like many other regions, the European Union is faced with an epidemic of obesity and the related type 2 diabetes that threatens to swamp member states' healthcare systems. Recent figures show that the number of people with diabetes has surged to 1.8 million in the UK, increasing by 400,000 in just eight years.
It is thought that environmental factors such as increased consumption of processed food, especially high fat food with low fibre content, and a reduction in the amount of exercise taken throughout life, have played a major role in the rise in number of diabetics.
The new Exgenesis project is designed to improve understanding of the underlying mechanisms that could be treated by diet and exercise, to identify better exercise and diet regimes and possibly discover new targets for medicines that could help people to achieve a more healthy lifestyle.
It will involve 26 laboratories in 13 different European countries, and includes companies in the areas of food production, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. They will use a number of approaches including molecular and cell biology, epidemiological and genetic studies of populations and physiological studies of human volunteers and patients.
Learning more about how the body responds to exercise at a molecular level will increase understanding of how the body regulates energy intake in the form of food and appetite control and energy output such as burning off fat and affecting metabolic rate. This could help tackle not only type 2 diabetes, but also conditions such as obesity and heart disease, partly associated with the fast food, sedentary lifestyle of the 21st century.
UK researchers will focus primarily on an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase, known to play an important role in co-ordinating energy metabolism, the process by which the body takes energy in, coverts it to 'energy out' and regulates it.