Running for Diabetes…

Meet Paul Franks…
… Professor of Diabetes Research and sportsman, who raised money for diabetes research by competing in the Copenhagen Ironman* triathlon race a while ago.

Paul FranksHow have the race and the fundraising gone?

“I think it’s gone well. Despite a broken toe, I finished the race in just over 10 hours. I beat my previous Ironman record, which I set in a race 20 years ago.

“We have raised just over SEK 20 000, which will go to a researcher exchange programme in which young diabetes researchers from LU get to spend six months working at Harvard, MIT or Cambridge. The programme has already started and has been very rewarding.”

How did you get the idea to combine competing with diabetes research?

“Ironman participants do sometimes use the competition as a way of fundraising. I have thought about doing it for a while, and received help with the practical aspects from Sara Liedholm here at the Diabetes Centre and from Karin Hofvendahl at the Development Office.”

But it wasn’t just about the money, was it?

“No, another aim was to communicate our diabetes research in a new way. We started a blog in the spring, on which I have talked about both my training and my research. The blog has been read by other researchers, diabetes patients and their families, and other triathletes. The texts have also been published on the Diabetes Portal’s Facebook page, and I think they have reached a lot of people.”

How long have you been competing?

“I ran my first half-marathon at the age of 12 and have now completed over 100 triathlons, marathons and other ultra-races. My wife also competes in triathlon, so we are careful to plan our races so that our most intensive periods of training do not coincide.”

How much training do you do?

“Over the eight weeks leading up to the race in Copenhagen I started at four or five o’clock in the morning. In total I did around 250km of cycling, 90km of running and around 40km of swimming in a week.

“On normal weeks, I don’t do as much, and then I only go running. We live in Vejbystrand, 12km from the station, so I sometimes run that distance when I’m on my way to work.”

And what about your research, what’s that on?

“I study the connection between heredity and environment in type 2 diabetes. One of my projects focuses on pregnant women in Puerto Rico and their health, in particular how they can maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy and the significance of this for the unborn child.

“Another area is an EU project on biomarkers in type 2 diabetes. All patients start out with elevated blood sugar and need to keep their sugar levels under control. However, how this should best be done varies from patient to patient. Some manage for a long time with just better diet and more exercise, others not. Patients also react differently to different medication and different types of insulin. If we could differentiate between all these patient groups using biomarkers, we could give every patient optimal treatment from the start, rather than being forced to use trial and error.”

Research, training and three children – how do you find time for it all?

“I probably sleep less than most people. My need for sleep is unusually low, fortunately!”

Text: Ingela Björck

*An Ironman is a triathlon competition that involves almost 4km of swimming, just over 180km of cycling and just over 42km of running (a marathon). Every year, over 30 Ironman races are held around the world, with almost 2 000 people competing.