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Innovating a new material to study obesity and type 2 diabetes

Project summary

Obesity is linked with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But to better understand the complex biological mechanisms that link to the two conditions, scientists need better ways of studying them in the lab. Dr Nicola Contessi Negrini is testing a new specialised material that she hopes will better recreate human body fat. This could open doors to new avenues of research that lead to new understanding about the root causes of type 2 diabetes and how to treat it. 

Background to research

Type 2 diabetes is a complex condition with many risk factors, and obesity or overweight is a major one. But scientists don’t yet fully understand all the reasons why obesity can influence the development of type 2 diabetes, because it’s so difficult to recreate what happens inside human bodies in the lab.  

So far, they’ve relied on studying animals or fat cells grown on plastics to mimic human body fat. But both have their limitations and don’t respond to drugs that same way human bodies do. This slows down progress towards new treatments, and we urgently need better ways to mimic human body fat for future research.  

Research aims

Dr Nicola Contessi Negrini will develop a new way to recreate and study human body fat in the lab, using advanced plant-based soft material. The material will be designed to mimic the appearance and function of body fat in type 2 diabetes.  

The researchers will grow fat cells taken from people with type 2 diabetes inside their soft materials, to create a specific copy of an individual’s body fat. This could be the first step towards studying an individual’s unique progression to type 2 diabetes and developing treatments tailored just to them. 

After this, they’ll study this lab-made body fat to identify the biological mechanisms that link obesity and type 2 diabetes, and confirm if their design can replicate what happens inside the human body. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

This study hopes to lay the groundwork for a better understanding of obesity and its links with type 2 diabetes. If successful, it could enable scientists to grow and study fat cells from individuals on this new material, reducing the use of animals in research while paving the way to customised treatments for people with obesity and type 2 diabetes.  

Next Review Date
Next review due
08 April 2025
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