Experts at Queen's University are to spearhead a major research project aimed at discovering why thousands of diabetic people around the world suffer kidney failure.
They will examine DNA samples from 20,000 diabetics to help identify the genetic factors in diabetic kidney disease.
The five-year project could enable personalised preventative care for those whose genetic profile puts them at risk of developing kidney complications.
It also hopes to create a test that could screen people with diabetes to assess their risk of kidney complications and help select preventative treatments.
Diabetic kidney disease is often not detected until an advanced stage. Over 50,000 patients in the UK are in end-stage kidney failure, which needs chronic dialysis or a transplant, with dialysis costing around £35,000 per person per year.
Diabetes is a huge public health problem, affecting one in 12 of the world's population.
The rapid upsurge in diabetes is fuelling an increase in the number of people with kidney failure, with diabetic kidney disease now the most common cause of end-stage kidney failure in the world.
The total number of adults in Northern Ireland aged 17 and over with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is 86,000.
A further 1,100 children and people under 17 are now known to have Type 1 diabetes. Prevalence in the Northern Ireland population is now over 4%.
Professor Peter Maxwell from the Centre for Public Health at Queen's University will be working with scientists at University College Dublin, the University of Helsinki and the Broad Institute in Boston.
He said the project demonstrated the university's commitment to "changing lives".
"We are excited to be working with this international team of talented scientists and clinicians to discover new information to help improve outcomes for patients with diabetic kidney disease," he added.
Dr Janice Bailie of the Public Health Agency, which is funding the Northern Ireland part of the research with support from the Medical Research Council, said: "We are delighted to be funding this project, which will tackle an important area of public health."