Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Research has been gathering momentum over the past few years, enabling us to learn more about this complex condition. In the hope that we can improve quality of life for patients and seek further treatments.

Spin-offs to this research, has created partnerships with the UK Ciliopathy Alliance and the Euro-WABB (Wolfram, Alström, Bardet-Biedl) consortium, which is creating a register to seek better prognoses and treatments – through genetic development and research across Europe not only into the principal syndromes but other less known syndromes.


It was a tremendous boost for the AS charity to secure Big Lottery funding of £350,000 (E406,000) to underpin a major research project aimed at providing insights, that could possibly benefit thousands of people suffering with rare diseases and a range of other conditions across the world.

Alström Syndrome UK partnered with the University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories and NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, and Torbay Hospital in South Devon. Stem cell research is a fundamental part of both the Big Lottery project and the research into dysfunctioning of cilia – an important part of cells in many parts of the body.

The patient database developed by Alström Syndrome UK since 1998 is provided and has now merged into a European database, which gave the research programme a head start head start:

  • Computer software has been developed initially to analysis all the data and update past records.
  • Cell studies and detailed tissue examinations are being undertaken using skin biopsies donated by patients with Alström Syndrome (AS).
  • Additional clinic tests have been introduced to explore the AS phenotype (characteristics displayed by an organism) and confirm genetic patterns and a programme has begun to raise awareness to uncover undiagnosed cases of Alström.

From this research the expert teams would like to ensure more people affected by AS are diagnosed sooner, to be able to improve management of this difficult to treat condition, to be able to better predict the course of the disease and to take the first steps to genetically engineered treatments.

The research has produced:

  • The first-ever structured research programme into Alström Syndrome in the UK
  • The first national clinical database of Alström patients in the UK
  • The first Alström Syndrome tissue bank
  • The first-ever stem cell research into Alström Syndrome

Encouraging clinical results were released (September 2017) from the first clinical trial in Alstrom Syndrome in the UK, read more about this research below and follow the link to the ProMetic website to read the full press release.

ASUK is pleased to announce that we are working in partnership with the Canadian Pharmaceutical Company ProMetic Bio therapeutics Ltd and the specialist clinical team at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham to support the first clinical trial for people affected by Alström Syndrome in the UK. The primary aim of the trial is to

evaluate the safety and tolerability of PBI-4050 and its effects on inflammatory, fibrosis, diabetes and obesity biomarkers in people affected by Alström Syndrome. It is early days and there are no guarantees that patients taking part in the trial have any clinical benefit, but we hope this trial will enable us to further develop our

understanding of this complex condition and add to the body of knowledge about Alström Syndrome. 

Further information about the clinical trial can be found via the website, using the trial reference number NCT02739217.

In July 2019, ASUK created an infant questionnaire for families to complete.

With the aim of:

  • Improving care
  • Increasing the understanding of the condition
  • Accelerate patient diagnosis.


Early diagnosis and better treatment
Information about AS health in infants will help Clinicians and Researchers recognise patterns in the occurrence of symptoms in particular ‘red flag’ signs that could inform an early diagnosis.

What does this actually mean for patients?
An early diagnosis of AS means patients can receive the right medication and treatment at the right time and share their experiences with others sooner. 

Diagnosis is complex, as very often infants do not present with the same set of symptoms –  AS can affect babies in different ways.


Families kindly took part and provided useful data. You can read the results from the early years study HERE

Theory of Mind Study

Please follow the website link to read about a Theory of Mind study which focused on communication and sensory functions in people affected by Alstrom Syndrome. The purpose of the study was to explore how cognitive skills that are important for communication can account for differences in Theory of Mind performance among individuals with Alstrom Syndrome. Particularly investigating the dual sensory loss and the impact this has.

London School of Economics: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Multidisciplinary Treatment & the Impacts of Proposed eHealth Solutions

Students from the London School of Economics investigated costs and benefits of multi-disciplinary clinics (MDC) in rare disease management in connection with AS. Looking not only at the multi-disciplinary clinics but the overall impact that AS has on families lives.

To this end, extensive interviews were performed with a number of patients and health practitioners at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH)and Birmingham Children’s Hospital (BCH), and a survey was conducted among all members of Alström Syndrome UK (ASUK), a patient-led charity. In a further step, we look at how these MDCs could be further developed into virtual clinics and virtual data hubs with the help of new technological developments in electronic healthcare (eHealth). Finally, taking a more holistic view, we turn to AS disease management as a paradigm for other rare diseases and how the ASUK approach to treatment could be replicated to service other charities.

You can read the full report here

The EURO-WABB Project is a collaboration of doctors, scientists and patient support groups from all over Europe. Within the EU Health Programme 2008-2013 and its call for promoting health through the creation of new registers for rare diseases, EURO-WABB is supported by The EU Directorate General for Health and Consumers (DG-SANCO) via its Executive Agency for Health and Consumers. The overall aim is for this register to be a key instrument to increase knowledge on these rare diseases, improve the lives of affected people through better management, and to develop clinical research.

Wolfram, Alström, Bardet-Biedl (WABB) and other Rare Diabetes Syndromes

WABB syndromes constitute a group of rare, heritable disorders linked by intolerance of the body to glucose. Each of these syndromes affects other parts of the body, including hearing and vision. This Register is mainly directed towards Wolfram syndrome, Alström syndrome and Bardet-Biedl syndrome; however its scope includes some other rarer syndromes including Wolcott-Rallison syndrome and Thiamine-responsive mebaloblastic anaemia, deafness and diabetes syndrome. Long term studies on these syndromes are desperately needed to understand their natural history, relate genetic diagnosis to predicting outcomes, to establish a basis for evidence-based management, and to develop new treatments.


The project combines unique strengths by linking a European patient-based data collection registry (work package (WP) 6) with the development of widespread availability of genetic testing across the EU (WP-5), and the development of a core dataset of information and evidence based diagnosis and management pathways (WP-4). WP-1 focuses on coordination of the project, WP-2 on dissemination to patients, health professionals and health policy-makers, and WP-3 on evaluation of the project.

You can find out more about the project via their website HERE


Media Reviewed: April 2020
Next Review: April 2022