European Biomed 2 projects deliver results in medical ethics and type 2 diabetes

Brussels 12 January 2001Different partners within the Biomed 2 programme, funded under the Fourth and Fifth Framework Programme by the European Commission, have reached some remarkable results in their respective projects. First, the EuroEthics databank, a European database network for ethics in medicine, health care, and health professions is further taking shape with over 12.000 entries already and still growing steadily. Second, the research effort carried out by a European-Canadian "Quality of Life" project consortium has led to the identification of one of the genes involved in the development of adult diabetes.


The new diabetes findings, made by a consortium of scientists from Belgium, France, and Canada, may help doctors diagnose the disease in its earliest stages, and predispose people to adult-onset or "type II" diabetes. The findings may also make new treatments possible, as SHIP2, the identified gene, is a potential therapeutic target for the treatment of this non-insulin-dependent type of diabetes, that is on the increase in the developing world.

Research, led by Dr. Stéphane Schurmans of the Free University of Brussels, engineered mice lacking SHIP2. The mice demonstrate that the gene forms a critical and essential down-regulator of insulin signalling and insulin sensitivity. Mice born with a deactivated SHIP2 gene were born with very low blood sugar levels and died shortly after birth. Dr. Schurmans has stated that the research has two potential benefits.

First, if a drug to make the SHIP2 gene work more effectively in their bodies could be developed, patients' insulin sensitivity could be restored, and their blood sugar levels would return to normal. Second, the finding could also help with diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in its earliest stages. At present, late diagnosis is causing complications such as blindness or kidney failure. In any case, more profound research is needed to make the findings suitable for everyday clinical practice in a safe and ethical manner. Speaking of ethics, there is still other Biomed 2 news about the EuroEthics databank.

Several European countries have joined together to produce a comprehensive database of literature concerning ethics in both medicine and biomedicine. Started out in 1996 at their respective actual national efforts in biomedical ethic documentation, four project partners developed a common strategy for the collection, analysis and indexing of relevant information, like published and grey literature, decrees and laws, and conference proceedings. The four partners represent the Akademie für Ethik in der Medizin, located in Göttingen; the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale in Paris; the Swedish Institute for Health Services Development in Stockholm; and the Department of Ethics, Philosophy and History of Medicine, based at the Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen.

Based on commonly adopted rules for bibliographic interchange, a common thesaurus of keywords, and indexing rules, the databank EuroEthics was established. The database is freely available for consultation on the World Wide Web. The resource contains more than twelve thousand entries and it continues to expand. A contract signed by the project partners ensures its ongoing development in the foreseeable future. The databank is currently accessed nearly a hundred times a day, and has equally led to the creation of an e-mail discussion forum. Projects such as this are excellent examples of the co-operative potential of the European Union, and there will certainly be more of this type of dissemination of information in the future. You can access the database at the Web site of the EuroEthics databank.

Leslie Versweyveld

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