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Targeting fatty acids in type 2 diabetes

Project summary

When fat cells are inflamed by high blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, they can release toxic levels of fatty acids into the blood, leading to insulin resistance. But cells in the body need a healthy level of fatty acids to work, so removing them completely isn’t an option. Professor Robin Klemm wants to understand more about how fatty acids are produced, which could help researchers to develop new treatments to control the level of fatty acids better and reduce insulin resistance.

Background to research

In people living with type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar levels can cause inflammation in fat tissue. The inflamed fat cells can release harmful amounts of fatty acids into the blood, and this can stop insulin from working properly (known as insulin resistance), making managing blood sugar levels even more difficult. 

Researchers have been developing treatments to completely stop fat cells from releasing fatty acids. But other cells in the body need some fatty acids to work, so totally removing them can cause problems in the heart, muscles, and liver. Professor Robin Klemm is working on a more fine-tuned approach. 

Research aims

To understand what’s going on at a molecular level, Prof Klemm and his team will use powerful microscopes to look at how fat cells release fatty acids in minute detail. They’ll also use a technique called mass spectrometry to analyse the molecules produced in the process. 

Based on their findings, they’ll then use genetic scissors, or CRISPR technology, to make genetic changes to the fat cells to see if they can dial fatty acid production up or down. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Understanding how to dial down the amount of fatty acids produced could help scientists to develop new treatments that reduce their harmful effects and help insulin to work better. This could give people with type 2 diabetes a new way to help manage their blood sugar levels and open up new approaches to help prevent the condition. 

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