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Exploring how to strong-arm type 2 diabetes

Project summary

Muscle damage is a common but under-studied complication of type 2 diabetes. It reduces mobility and can affect independence. Professor Lee Roberts will explore if a drug licensed to treat problems with how the body processes iron could help to improve muscle health and quality of life. This could improve our understanding of muscle damage in people with type 2 diabetes and provide us with better ways to treat it.

Background to research

People with type 2 diabetes can be more prone to muscle damage and loss, leading to mobility problems and reduced independence. But because muscle damage in people with diabetes is not well understood, there are currently no treatments available to prevent it or slow it down.  

Professor Roberts and his team have found that muscle damage in people with type 2 diabetes could be caused by problems with how the body controls iron levels in the blood. 

High levels of iron are known to trigger the death of cells in other organs such as the brain and pancreas. Professor Roberts will investigate if iron also causes muscle damage in type 2 diabetes and if existing drugs could be used to help prevent damage.  

Research aims

To confirm that iron plays a role in muscle damage in people with diabetes, Professor Lee Roberts and his PhD student will examine muscle and blood samples from people with and without type 2 diabetes. 

They will also investigate the effects of two different drugs on preventing muscle damage in mice. The first works on block iron-dependent tissue damage. The second is used to treat people with a specific type of anaemia and works by stopping the build-up of iron in the blood. 

They will measure the size, weight, ability to contract and health of muscles in the mice. This will tell them if targeting iron in the blood could offer a potential new way to treat muscle damage in people with type 2 diabetes. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Between 10 and 20% of people with type 2 diabetes are affected by muscle damage, but at the moment there are no treatments to prevent it. Understanding more about how muscle damage occurs, and the role iron plays holds great promise for developing new treatments for people with type 2 diabetes that keeps their muscle healthy for longer and keep people mobile and independent as they get older. 

In the shorter term, this research could also provide important initial data to support and speed up the repurposing of an existing drug for anaemia for muscle damage in type 2 diabetes. 

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