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Unravelling how beta cells lose their ‘identity’ and function

Project summary

The impact of long non-coding RNA at the Pax6 locus on beta cell identity and function

It has become increasingly clear that during the progression of Type 2 diabetes, pancreatic beta cells - responsible for storing and releasing insulin - lose their identity, which impairs their function. Professor Guy Rutter and his colleagues aim to gain a better understanding of how the identity and function of beta cells is threatened during the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Background to research

Beta cells in the pancreas are the sole source of insulin used by the body to regulate blood glucose levels. Their failure to produce insulin can result in Type 2 diabetes, and understanding how they fail is vital in our search for more effective Type 2 diabetes treatments. It has become apparent that beta cells don’t just become ‘sick’ during diabetes, but they start to ‘lose their identity’ and become less like beta cells. It is known that a number of key genes (known as master regulators) that usually define healthy beta cells become less available during diabetes, and one molecule (called  lncRNA) has recently been identified as being involved in controlling beta cell function and identity. 

Research aims

Professor Guy Rutter his team aim to gain a better understanding of how beta cell identity and function is threatened during the development of Type 2 diabetes. In particular they would like to investigate how the molecule IncRNA is involved.  They are planning to examine beta cell identity and function in mice, using a technique that they have already successful used. During the study, they aim to unravel some of the mechanisms that shape beta cell function and identity, with the aim of developing new treatments in the future.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Understanding why beta cells fail in people with Type 2 diabetes is vital in the development of new treatments. This research aims to understand how lncRNA could be used to keep beta cell identity and function healthy during the development of Type 2 diabetes, and to use this information in the development of new therapies.      

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