Current research into insulin resistance in Type 2 diabetes focuses on how insulin works inside cells, but Dr Kang is investigating the role of insulin on the outside.
Muscle cells are surrounded by a structure known as the extracellular matrix, and she believes that changes to this structure could affect how well muscle cells can take in glucose. If successful, this could lead to the development of new treatments to combat insulin resistance.
Background to research
In people without Type 2 diabetes, the hormone insulin tells muscle and fat cells to take in glucose from the blood stream. In Type 2 diabetes, many cells inside the body don’t respond properly to insulin and stop taking glucose in. This is referred to as insulin resistance, and results in a build-up of glucose in the bloodstream.
Research into insulin resistance has mainly focussed on studying how insulin works inside muscle cells. Instead, Dr Kang has been researching what happens outside the cells, focusing on molecules that form a physical structure around muscle cells, known as the extracellular matrix.
She has found a link between this extracellular matrix and insulin resistance, showing that the matrix changes when insulin resistance develops, in response to a high fat diet. Her early research suggests that removing this altered matrix that sits outside the muscle cells could improve the cells’ ability to respond to insulin.
Dr Kang plans to study the extracellular matrix that surrounds the outside of muscle cells. This matrix appears to be altered as a result of a high fat diet, and may contribute to the development of insulin resistance.
Her research team aims to prevent the changes to the extracellular matrix from happening, using specific drugs or by targeting specific genes in the lab. In doing so, they hope to slow the development of insulin resistance, and help the muscle cells to continue to take in glucose from the blood stream.
Potential benefit to people with diabetes
Current treatments for Type 2 diabetes are often not effective in all people, lose their effectiveness over time, or have side effects. If this project can explain how insulin works outside of the cell, it could lead to the development of more effective Type 2 diabetes treatments to improve insulin sensitivity.