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Overview of Diabetes

Diabetes is a syndrome associated with excess blood sugar due to either low levels of insulin production by the pancreas or insulin resistance. Diabetes can lead to a variety of illnesses including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, limb amputations and birth defects. It is estimated that around 250 million people in the world are living with diabetes today and this number will increase to around 380 million by 2025 (WHO prediction). The US alone has 20.8 million people suffering from diabetes (LeadDiscovery, 2009) while the UK hosts about 2.5 million sufferers (Diabetes UK).   Diabetes has also become a major cause of premature illness and death in many countries, mainly through the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. According to WHO estimates, over 1.1 million people around the world die annually directly from diabetes. The number of people whose death was recorded as heart disease or kidney failure where diabetes was a contributory factor is, however, considerably higher. Accordingly, diabetes related causes account for over 3.8 million deaths; equivalent to one death every ten seconds and claiming the lives of as many people as HIV/AIDS (Espicom 2009).

According to Diabetes UK reports,  the incidence of Type-1 diabetes (lack of insulin) in children is rising at a rate of three to four percent a year. The increase in Type-2 diabetes (insulin resistance) which has been closely linked to an aging population is also rapidly rising together with the numbers of obese or overweight people. Type-2 diabetes, traditionally a condition associated with older age groups, is now also appearing in children and adolescents.

 The economic impact and market share of antidiabetic drugs

It is estimated that the global diabetes therapy market is at around US$26.3 billion in 2009 and is expected to grow to around US$34.5 billion by 2013 (Espicom 2009). Market analysis by various interested groups indicates that oral antidiabetic drugs account for around 39% of the total market value. Metformin is the recommended first-line therapy for Type-2 diabetes and accounts for around 11-12% of the total market value. Other oral agents include sulphonylureas, thiazolidinediones (TZDs or glitazones), glinides and α-glucosidase inhibitors. Many of these are reported to be widely available generically and the sales of leading proprietary oral agents are now over US$7 billion. There are also quite few current trials and developments in insulin formulations, injectable glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists, oral dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors, etc, but the hope still is on the discovery of novel antidiabetic drugs. With widely accepted prediction of an already large market for diabetes medications to show continuous growth, the potential of drug discovery researches in this area is enormous.

Our Research Strategy

Being aware of the impact of scientific research in this field, we introduced several bioassay systems by the beginning of 2009. Our strategy is to study  medicinal plant with claimed traditional uses for the management of diabetes. When activity is detected, we undertake a comprehensive bioassay-guided isolation study to identify the active principles. the following are among the relevant bioassay screens of interest:

         Inhibition of the catalytic activity of α-glucosidase leads to the retardation of glucose absorption from the gut leading to decreased level of  postprandial blood glucose. We are targeting this  enzyme by natural products to identify chemotherapeutic agents for diabetes and as well as obesity:

         The common feature of hyperglycaemia is glycation reaction resulting in the formation of various products which are commonly associated with diabetes, aging and neurodegenerative diseases: We use an in vitro model of protein glycation measurements.

         Compounds that enhance insulin-dependent increase in glucose uptake in adiposities and myoblasts are regarded as antidiabetic agents:  glucose transport in cultured cells is a relevant method of sugar uptake study.

In In this example, the antidiabetic potential of plant anthocyanins is scrutinised. This highly coloured products commonly found in our food have shown potential antidiabetic effect through multiple mechanism.  Click on the image to freely access the full article. According to the journal news (Link or PDF), this article was th top featured paper of the year 2017.


We have also shown the therapeutic potential of compounds that we take for granted. Small compounds such as monoterpenes appear to punch a lot more than their weight! Click on the image to access the free article. See also exemplary articles below.

Read our  articles in the field:

  • HABTEMARIAM, S. (2018). Antidiabetic potential of monoterpenes: A case of small molecules punching above their weight. International Journal of Molecular Sciences 19(1), 4. Full Text

  • Marya, Khan, H.,, Nabavi, S.M. HABTEMARIAM,  S.  (2018). Anti-diabetic potential of peptides: Future prospects as therapeutic agents. Life Sciences 193,  153-158. Abstract

  • Belwal, T., Nabavi, S.F., Nabavi, S.M., HABTEMARIAM, S.* (2017).  Dietary anthocyanins and insulin resistance: When food becomes a medicine. Nutrients   9(10), 1111. Full Text Link or PDF

  • Varghese, G.K,  Abraham, R., Chandran, N.N, HABTEMARIAM, S. (2017). Identification of lead molecules in Garcinia mangostana L. against pancreatic cholesterol esterase activity: An in silico approach. Interdisciplinary  Science: Computational  Life Sciences. In Press. Abstract

  • HABTEMARIAM, S. (2017). Could we really use Aloe vera food supplements to treat diabetes? International Journal of Diabetes and Clinical Research 2017:  4:070 FULL TEXT

  • HABTEMARIAM, S. (2017). Going back to the good old days: The merit of crude plant drug mixtures in the 21st century. International Journal of Complementary & Alternative Medicine 6(2), 2017, 1-5. Full Text

  • HABTEMARIAM, S.*, Varghese, G.K. (2017). Antioxidant, anti-alpha-glucosidase and pancreatic beta-cell protective effects of methanolic extract of Ensete superbum Cheesm seeds. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine 7(2), 121125. Abstract

  • HABTEMARIAM, S. (2016). The African Moringa is to change the lives of millions in Ethiopia and far beyond. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine 6(4), 355-356.  Full Text

  • Tsala, D.E., Lannang, A.M., Dimo, T., HABTEMARIAM, S., Ekanga, J.A., Guemmogne, B.M., Sewald, N.  (2016).  Antidiabetic and wound healing effects of smeathxanthone A. Recent Advances in Biology and Medicine 2, 5-10. Full Text

  • Manaye, A., Abdollahi, M., Thiagarajan, R., Nabavi, S.F., HABTEMARIAM, S., Daglia, M., Badiee, A., Nabavi, S.M. (2016).  Lutein and Cataract: from bench to beside. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology 36(5), 829-839.  Abstract

  • HABTEMARIAM, S., Varghese, G.K. (2015). Extractability of Rutin in Herbal Tea Preparations of Moringa stenopetala Leaves. Beverages, 19(3), 169-182. Free Full Text Access

  • HABTEMARIAM, S.* and Lentini, G. (2015). The therapeutic potential of rutin for diabetes: An update. Mini Review in Medicinal Chemistry 15(7), 524-528. Abstract

  • HABTEMARIAM, S. (2015). Investigation into the antioxidant and antidiabetic potential of Moringa stenopetala: Identification of the active principles. Natural Product Communications 10(3), 475-478. Link

  • Nabavi, S.F., HABTEMARIAM, S., Daglia, M., Shafighi, M., Barber, A.J., Nabavi, S.M. (2015). Anthocyanins as a potential therapy for diabetic retinopathy. Current Medicinal Chemistry 22(1), 51-58.  Abstract

  • HABTEMARIAM, S. and Varghese, G.K. (2014). The antidiabetic therapeutic potential of dietary polyphenols. Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology 15(4), 391-400. Abstract

  • Varghese, G.K., Bose, L.V., HABTEMARIASM, S*. (2013). Antidiabetic components of Cassia alata leaves: Identification through a-glucosidase inhibition studies. Pharmaceutical Biology 51(3), 345-349. Abstract

  • HABTEMARIAM, S. (2013). Antihyperlipidemic components of Cassia auriculata aerial parts: Identification through in vitro studies. Phytotherapy Research 27(1), 152–155.  Abstract

  • HABTEMARIAM S. (2012). The anti-obesity potential of sigmoidin A. Pharmaceutical Biology  50(12), 1519-1522. Abstract

  • Roselli, M.,  Lentini, G. and  HABTEMARIAM, S*. (2012). Phytochemical, antioxidant and anti-alpha-glucosidase activity evaluations of Bergenia cordifolia. Phytotherapy Research 26(6), 908914 Abstract

  • HABTEMARIAM, S. (2011). Targeting intestinal digestive enzymes by natural products: synergistic effects of flavonoids. Planta Medica 177(12), 1404. Abstract

  • HABTEMARIAM, S. (2011).  a-Glucosidase  inhibitory activity of kaempferol-3-O-rutinoside. Natural Product Communications 6(2), 201203. Abstract


Visit a news page on ...Media Coverage of our Studies in this field...


By using our bioassay-phytochemistry studies, we have  identified several hit extracts -  we would like to hear from anyone with similar interests...Contact


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The Site Owner

Dr Habtemariam BSc, MSc, PhD........FRSM, FRSC. .... With a Principal Lecturer post at Greenwich, Dr Habtemariam is a leader of the BSc Pharmaceutical Science programme and researches on bioassay & natural products-based drug development. ....More



In addition to our fully equipped tissue culture facilities, we have  access to various state-of-the-art equipment including ICP-MS, LC-MS, MALDI-TOF-MS, FABS-MS, FTIR, Laser-Raman,  scanning  and transmission  electron microscopes, flow cytometer, NMR (270, 300 and 500MHz),  automated DNA sequencers, various HPLC systems,  capillary electrophersis and ABI PRCmate DNA synthetisers.










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