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Giving fat cells a boost with vitamin C

Project summary

Lower levels of vitamin C have been linked with obesity and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Professor Jon Whitehead will explore how vitamin C gets into fats cells and if more vitamin C inside these cells helps insulin to work better. Understanding this could help us find out if vitamin C supplements could become a new strategy to help treat type 2 diabetes in the future.

Background to research

Previous research has shown that lower levels of vitamin C are linked with obesity and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But we don’t fully understand why they’re linked. 

We do know that obesity can put fat cells under lots of stress. Fat is more than a simple energy store. It also pumps hormones and offer factors around the body so that energy is used effectively. But stressed fat cells become angry and instead pump hormones and chemicals that can cause inflammation and prevents insulin from working properly, known as insulin resistance. In turn, this can lead to type 2 diabetes.   

Professor Jon Whitehead has discovered that vitamin C can protect the fat cells from this stress and keep them working as they should. But it must first get inside the cells. We don’t currently know how this happens. Figuring this out could open up new treatment options for people with type 2 diabetes.  

Research aims

Professor Whitehead and this team will grow human fat cells in the lab. They will carefully control the vitamin C levels, to mimic the amount found in people with very low or very high levels of vitamin C. 

To find out how vitamin C gets into the fat cells, they will use specific chemicals called inhibitors that block vitamin C from getting into fat cells. They will use state-of-the-art techniques to measure how much vitamin C is getting into fat cells and what it does once inside the cells in more detail than has ever been possible before. 

By combining these approaches, Professor Whitehead will be able to figure out how vitamin C gets into human fat cells, if and how much this process goes wrong in obesity, and to what extent vitamin C can prevent fat cells from becoming stressed. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

This research will help us understand for the first time if obesity impacts the workings of vitamin C inside fat cells and contributes to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. This could give us the first evidence to suggest vitamin C supplements could offer a new and cost-effective way to help people living with obesity and type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels.

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