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Does EGFR protect beta cells?

Project summary

Modulation of pancreatic beta cell cytokine-induced apoptosis by p38-dependent ligand-independent activation of epidermal growth factor receptor

Cytokines are molecules that stimulate the immune attack against the pancreas in Type 1 diabetes, and cause inflammation in Type 2 diabetes. Dr Tomas is exploring whether a protein called EGFR can keep insulin-producing beta cells alive and healthy after they’ve been exposed to these damaging cytokines. This research could find a new way to keep beta cells alive.

Background to research

Molecules that cause inflammation, known as cytokines, play a role in the development of the two main forms of diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2). Cytokines signal to the immune system to attack the pancreas in Type 1 diabetes, and affect beta cell function by encouraging inflammation in Type 2 diabetes. Dr Tomas has found that a protein called EGFR reacts to the presence of damaging cytokines, moving inside insulin-producing beta cells and sending signals out to protect them. 

Research aims

Dr Tomas plans to study the activity and movement of the EGFR protein in insulin-producing beta cells in the lab. They aim to find out how beta cells function and survive after they’ve been exposed to cytokines, and see if EGFR plays a role in protecting them. They will also study islets (clusters of beta cells), to see if the clusters make more EGFR to protect themselves after they’ve been exposed to cytokines.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

If EGFR can be found to keep beta cells alive and healthy, this research could identify new ways to prevent the progression of Type 1 diabetes or improve the survival of islets during islet transplants.

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