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Changing the brain’s ‘thermostat’ to help blood sugar levels

Project summary

The brain has an important role in measuring and controlling blood sugar levels. In people with diabetes this can go wrong when the brain chooses a level that’s too high. Dr Clemence Blouet wants to find out if there’s a way of developing new treatments that can reprogramme the brain to keep blood sugar at safer levels.

Background to research

The pancreas has the very important job of making insulin, the hormone which helps our bodies to move sugar from the blood into cells, fuelling them so they can do their jobs properly. But blood sugar levels aren’t measured by the pancreas by itself – the brain is also important, as it decides how much sugar the body needs to make to keep blood sugar levels stable between meals. 

This can go wrong in people with diabetes because their brains choose a higher blood sugar level, like a thermostat set at 25 degrees rather than 20. A protein, called FGF1, can reset the brain so it chooses to aim for a lower blood sugar level.  

In mice with diabetes, Dr Blouet has already found that boosting levels of FGF1 in an area of the brain, called the hypothalamus, can keep their blood sugar levels stable for months. It seems to have an effect on a specific type of cell, called oligodendrocytes. Dr Blouet and her team want to find out more about exactly how FGF1 does this, and how oligodendrocytes have a special role in measuring and controlling blood sugar levels.

Research aims

Firstly, Dr Blouet and her team will see if FGF1 increases the amount and speed of oligodendrocytes being made in the brains of mice with diabetes. They’ll then block oligodendrocytes from being made and see if FGF1 is still able to help with controlling blood sugar levels. 

The next step for the team is to test other treatments which help to make new oligodendrocytes, which might be safer than FGF1. 

Lastly, they’ll look to reveal how these new oligodendrocytes are able to control blood sugar levels. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

A deeper understanding of how the brain is involved in managing blood sugar levels could help scientists to develop new treatments able to reset the brain’s thermostat in people living with diabetes. This could help people to take less medication and check their blood sugar levels less frequently, easing the burden of living with diabetes. 

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