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Swapping Beta Cells for Alpha Cells to Treat Type 2 Diabetes

Project summary

As type 2 diabetes develops, alpha cells in the pancreas fail. Professor Hodson has found that a protein called GC plays a key role in how alpha cells function. He will run experiments to figure out how the loss of GC impacts why alpha cells go wrong in type 2 diabetes. In the future, this could lead to new treatments for type 2 diabetes that help to keep alpha cells working and give people better blood sugar control. 

Background to research

When type 2 diabetes develops, insulin-making beta cells in the pancreas begin to fail. But other cells in the pancreas, called alpha cells, can also stop working properly in people with type 2 diabetes. Alpha cells produce a hormone called glucagon, which causes blood sugar levels to rise. Alpha cells should work in tandem with beta cells to tightly control blood sugar levels.  

But there’s evidence that in type 2 diabetes alpha cells don’t respond properly to low blood sugars and they don’t shut off when blood sugars are high, further increasing blood sugar levels.  

Professor David Hodson has previously found that a protein, called GC, plays a key role in controlling the function of alpha cells and release of glucagon. Now, he wants to precisely understand how GC is involved in controlling the release of glucagon from alpha cells, which could lead to promising new treatments for type 2 diabetes. 

Research aims

Professor Hodson wants to better understand the role of GC and how it affects the function of alpha cells as type 2 diabetes develops. 

He will first explore the role of GC in mice who are missing the gene for the GC protein from their alpha cells. Professor Hodson will combine different cutting-edge techniques to look for any changes in how their alpha cells work and identify the exact biological processes by which GC affects alpha cells as type 2 diabetes develops. Next, the team will study samples of alpha cells from people with and without type 2 diabetes to check their findings apply to humans.  

Finally, they will add GC back into the mice’s alpha cells, to see if the cells start to function normally again.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Treatments for type 2 diabetes currently focus on helping beta cells to release more insulin, but there are no treatments that act on alpha cells – which also play a crucial role in blood sugar control. By precisely understanding how alpha cells go wrong in type 2 diabetes, this research could lead to a new generation of treatments for people with type 2 diabetes, designed to help alpha cells work as they should again. Such treatments would give people with type 2 diabetes safer blood sugar control, and in turn reduce their risk of diabetes complications. 

Next Review Date
Next review due
01 June 2023
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