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Breakthrough in diabetes research

Breakthrough in diabetes research: single mechanism may cause both types of disease


University of Auckland scientists are reporting a major new development in diabetes research with the discovery of a single molecular mechanism they believe triggers both major forms of the disease.

University of Auckland scientists are reporting a major new development in diabetes research with the discovery of a single molecular mechanism they believe triggers both major forms of the disease.

The common trigger mechanism has been suspected but not proved until now.

Professor Garth Cooper of the University’s School of Biological Sciences and Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular BioDiscovery leads an international research team whose latest discovery means we now know what causes beta-cells of the pancreas – cells that make insulin – to die in both type-1 and type-2 diabetes.

The research shows compelling evidence that type-1 diabetes (juvenile onset) and type-2 diabetes are both caused by the formation of tiny toxic clumps of the hormone amylin, which is produced by the same cells in the pancreas which produce insulin.

These small clumps of amylin in turn destroy those cells that produce insulin and amylin. The consequence of this cell death is development of diabetes, where sugar levels in the blood rise, causing damage to organs such as the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.

“We are confident this discovery can be used to make new classes of anti-diabetic medicines and hope to have potential medicines ready for entry into clinical trials within the next two years,” Professor Cooper says.

“We aim to treat patients with both forms of the disease with the objective being to stop the death of the insulin-producing cells and the longer-term goal of increasing these cells.”

According to the International Diabetes Federation, the number of people contracting diabetes is expected to reach 592 million by 2035.

But the causal mechanisms for both types of diabetes have remained obscure, making it very difficult to design effective medicines for its prevention or cure.

The research is published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB J), a leading international biology journal.

The two common forms of diabetes are type-1, also known as juvenile onset diabetes in which insulin is vital to ensure survival, and type-2, the more common form which is an increasing global health problem.

This work was supported by Endocore Research Associates, the University of Auckland, the NZ Health Research Council, the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, the Maurice & Phyllis Paykel Medical Research Trust, and the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular BioDiscovery.

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