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Boosting beta cells in Type 2 diabetes

Project summary

In people with Type 2 diabetes, insulin-producing cells stop working properly over time. Dr Paul Caton thinks that this is down to a molecule called NAD, which is found at lower levels in the pancreas of people with Type 2 diabetes. He will test whether boosting the levels of NAD could increase numbers of insulin-producing cells. This could lead to new, better treatments that work to stop the progression of Type 2 diabetes.

Background to research

In Type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t respond properly to insulin and, over time, insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas became exhausted and stop working.

Current treatments for Type 2 diabetes reduce levels of glucose in the blood, but they don’t combat the decline of functioning beta cells. As more and more beta cells stop working, current medications become less effective and many people with Type 2 diabetes eventually need to take insulin.

Previous research has shown that the beta cells change into different types of cells that don’t produce insulin. We don’t yet know why this happens, which makes it difficult to develop new drugs to prevent it.

Dr Caton has shown that levels of a compound found in beta cells, called NAD, are lower in Type 2 diabetes and thinks this could play an important role in why beta cells change.

Research aims

Dr Caton wants to investigate this further and study the impact of changing NAD levels on the number of beta cells. He will study beta cells in mice with Type 2 diabetes and in samples of human pancreas tissue. Firstly, he’ll look at whether lowering NAD levels causes changes to beta cells and reduces their numbers.

Then he aims to find out whether it’s possible to reverse the changes and convert the altered cells back into beta cells. He will investigate a number of different dietary and pharmacological compounds which have been shown to boost NAD levels, and see if they can prevent or treat Type 2 diabetes in mice.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

New treatments to boost beta cell numbers could be transformative for people with Type 2 diabetes. This research could help scientists to develop drugs, to block the progression of Type 2 diabetes and help people with the condition to have better blood sugar control.

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