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Knowing fat cells inside out

Project summary

Weight gain is an important risk factor for type 2 diabetes. A lot of research studies focus on what’s happening inside fat cells to try and explain why insulin no longer works properly. Dr Kang now plans to study what’s happening just outside fat cells to find more answers and a better understanding about the link between weight gain and type 2 diabetes. 

Background to research

Weight gain is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. There has been lots of research to better understand what’s going on inside fat cells to help explain why this is.   

But Dr Li Kang has found that weight gain is linked to an increase of certain molecules just outside the fat cells. When this happens the fat cells don’t react to insulin as they normally should. Similarly, she’s found that removing these molecules in mice reduces their body fat and help them respond better to insulin. 

Dr Kang believes that these molecules are important for passing messages from outside to inside fat cells.  

Research aims

Dr Kang now aims to explore in more detail how these molecules outside fat cells link with weight gain and how insulin works to control blood sugar levels.  

First Dr Kang and her team will study obese mice that don’t respond well to the insulin they make. They’ll treat mice with drugs that alter the activity of molecules outside fat cells or their signalling and measure if this helps the cells react to insulin and whether the mice lose weight.  

Dr Kang will then study what happens when she removes genes from inside human cells.  This is to understand how each gene is important in controlling how fat cells respond to insulin.  

The researchers will also test whether their findings can then be used to understand changes in weight by studying fat tissues collected from people with and without type 2 diabetes.  

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Rising obesity is the main driver behind the increase in people living with or at risk of type 2 diabetes. Dr Kang’s research could help us to better understand how weight gain causes changes inside the body which lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.  

There are already drugs in use that are used to remove molecules just outside cells in other conditions. If findings from this project suggest that targeting molecules outside of fat cells is a promising avenue, it could ultimately lead to the development of new drugs designed to do this in order to treat or prevent type 2 diabetes. 

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