Call for volunteers with type 2 diabetes to trial weight loss technology

Dr Ant Shepherd in the hypoxia tent in a lab setting

The trial will look at the effect of breathing lower amounts of oxygen while asleep

  • 20 June 2022
  • 5 min read
Researchers in Portsmouth are calling for local volunteers with type 2 diabetes to test technology designed to help lose weight whilst asleep. 

The trial, led by the University of Portsmouth, will look at the effect of breathing lower amounts of oxygen (hypoxia) in the air, on type 2 diabetes and weight loss. 

It will investigate whether sleeping in hypoxia is effective at improving blood glucose control (the level of sugar in the blood). 

Researchers will also examine the impact on weight loss, expanding on an existing body of evidence which suggests that hypoxia can reduce appetite and burn more calories in people living with type 2 diabetes.

Volunteers will take part in the trial from their own homes, sleeping in a tent which will be set up by the study team, for two 10-day periods. For one of the 10-day periods, oxygen levels in the tent will be set to 15 percent, similar to levels for passengers on an aeroplane or for people living at high altitude. Volunteers will not know when they are sleeping with lower oxygen levels and should not notice a big difference. 
Dr Ant Shepherd in a hypoxia tent in a lab setting

The hypoxia tent in a lab setting

Dr Ant Shepherd, a senior lecturer in the School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science at the University of Portsmouth, who is leading the trial, said: “Type 2 diabetes is a common condition that causes blood glucose levels to become too high. For many people, it is a long-term condition which can negatively impact their everyday life and put them at a greater risk of developing other serious health complications, such as heart disease or eye problems. 

“While it is possible to lose weight and reduce blood glucose levels through changes in diet and increased exercise, there are a range of factors and barriers which make these lifestyle changes difficult for some people to initiate.  

“With the number of people living with type 2 diabetes expected to reach 700 million worldwide by 2045, is it vital that we find other successful interventions to help us treat and manage the condition, reducing the cost to the NHS and making people’s day to day lives better.” 

Throughout the trial, volunteers will be asked to wear smart monitors, keep a food diary and provide blood, urine and stool samples. They will also have body composition scans and their blood glucose levels tested, to help researchers understand the body’s response to hypoxia. The trial will take place over eight weeks, with five visits to the University of Portsmouth during this time. All volunteer travel expenses will be reimbursed. 

15 volunteers are needed for the first phase of the trial, which is open to most people with type 2 diabetes. Exclusions include sleep apnoea, blood disorders (such as thalassemia and sickle cell) and certain medications. 

With the number of people living with type 2 diabetes expected to reach 700 million worldwide by 2045, is it vital that we find other successful interventions to help us treat and manage the condition, reducing the cost to the NHS and making people’s day to day lives better.

Dr Ant Shepherd, senior lecturer

Trial participant Janet Rennell-Smyth said: “It’s my seventh night sleeping in the hypoxia tent at home. It’s a spacious clear plastic tent that sits on top of my bed (it covers your top half) with a weighted skirt, that has air pumped into it at a specified pressure. It doesn’t feel claustrophobic and when you get used to the noise of the machine, it feels no different. I had no trouble going to sleep in it. It takes about five minutes to put the oxygen monitors on before getting into bed and it’s very easy to get out of the tent when needed.

“The researchers running the study are excellent, they take great care to carefully explain what will happen each step of the way, so there are no surprises. Nothing you have to do hurts. Even the blood tests are achieved with little discomfort and I have difficult veins!

“I’m enjoying participating in the study that may give us in future, alternate treatments for this disease. I would recommend anyone who is able, to volunteer and help out on this study.”

Dr Shepherd added: “There’s already quite a lot of evidence from other studies which shows that hypoxia improves the control of blood glucose levels and results in weight loss. We’re not entirely sure why this happens, but we think it’s likely to be because it helps you burn more calories and appetites become suppressed so that people don’t feel as hungry. We’re hoping this trial will help us find the answers.”

Initial findings from the trial are expected to be announced in early 2023, with further research anticipated if promising results are seen. 

The University of Portsmouth led trial, which is supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust, has been funded by the Prince Faisal bin Fahad Award for Sports Research. 

Anyone interested in finding out more and signing up for the trial can contact the study team by email on thomas.james@port.ac.uk or ant.shepherd@port.ac.uk or by phone on +44(0)23 92842 711 or +44(0)23 92845 289.