There are now 73 trials running through the UK Diabetes Research Network (UKDRN), launched by the Department of Health in July 2005 as part of the UK Clinical Research Network (UKCRN) initiative to develop a nationwide infrastructure for clinical studies in the National Health Service.

That compares with a total of 944 trials underway through all of the topic-specific (six in all) and other networks (Primary care and the Comprehensive Clinical Research Network) managed by the UKCRN. Whether the UKDRN can raise its game will depend to a large extent on how successfully it can overcome the meagre recruitment rates for diabetes studies.

According to Dr Paul Chester, visiting academic at the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (OCDEM, which co-ordinates the UKDRN along with Imperial College London), research shows that on average 1.5 type 2 diabetics are randomised per site in UK trials each month. That is below the rates seen in other countries in Western Europe and Scandinavia, with Denmark scoring the highest at 5.5 patients per site per month.

A fundamental problem, Chester notes, is that many diabetes trials in the UK are conducted through hospital centres, whereas 80-85% of diabetics receive their care in general practice. Rather than relying on investigators to encourage patients into trials, the UKDRN is trying a more direct approach.

A recent report by market analyst Datamonitor suggested that web-based tools were the key to overcoming the recruitment drought in the established markets for clinical research. At the end of May the UKDRN launched a new website and DVD, coinciding with International Clinical Trials Day, that it hopes will achieve just that effect for diabetes research.

Both the DVD, which is distributed to care centres in England, and the website at www.diabetesresearchnetworking.org focus on what it is really like, from a patient’s perspective, to take part in a clinical trial. As the UKDRN points out, diabetes affects nearly 5% of the population of England, yet very few people know about the advances being made in diabetes research or what diabetes trials actually entail.

The DVD outlines how to get involved in trials and how they can benefit both researchers and participants. It also includes a number of video clips of clinicians, nurses and trial subjects talking about their experiences. Clips of diabetes patients feature heavily on the website too.

It is too early yet to gauge whether these initiatives will actually feed through into wider participation in diabetes trials run through the UKDRN. What is certain is that the recruitment website is attracting interest, with a total of 3,351 visits at the last count, 1,623 unique visitors and 95,972 hits overall. The bulk of the hits so far are from the US (around 53,000) and the UK (22,000).