The Yorkshire breakthrough that changed diabetics’ lives

Susan Dunigan was one of the first people to take part in ground-breaking diabetes research. Catherine Scott reports.

Susan dunigan took part in a diabetic trial 20 years ago. Picture © Orbit Media Ltd
Susan dunigan took part in a diabetic trial 20 years ago. Picture © Orbit Media Ltd

It is 20 years since Susan Dunigan took part in a ground-breaking trial that has helped thousands of adults in the UK improve the quality of their life.

Susan, now 67, of Fulwood, took part in the pilot study of the Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating (DAFNE) trial two decades ago, and hasn’t had a single diabetes-related hospital admission since.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The trial, which was led by Professor Simon Heller at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, led to the five-day training programme being rolled out to NHS diabetes centres across the country.

Since then the programme, which is recognised by NICE and the Department of Health, has helped over 50,000 patients across the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Kuwait to understand more about their condition and how they can manage insulin to improve control.

For Susan, who was first diagnosed with her condition at the age of 24, the trial represented a turning point.

“Every day social situations were always a challenge. I would turn up at a friend’s house for a meal, but we’d not eat until two hours later, but my diabetes made it hard for me to be flexible and I would always be thinking about how to avoid the threat of a hypo,” she explains.

“The advice was to closely match my carbohydrate intake to my 
insulin intake but it was always a bit hit and miss. Other factors would have an impact, too, such as 
exercise or other external factors like stress.”

Susan was one of the first patients in the country to receive the DAFNE training in November 2000, where she learned how to match her insulin dose to her chosen food intake on a meal by meal basis.

Twenty years on, she’s not looked back, and the ongoing training has given her the freedom to live a rewarding life.

“I am now much more confident about taking exercise and my diabetes is so well controlled I can cycle on my electric bike without 
my blood sugars dipping to dangerous levels and I even learnt to scuba dive, something people with my condition are usually told to avoid due to the risk of having a hypoglycaemic attack underwater,” says Susan.

“I feel really privileged to have been part of the DAFNE course and would encourage others to take part if they are given the chance.”