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Can stress hormones protect beta cells?

Project summary

Exploring beta cell reprogramming by glucocorticoids

Professor David Hodson would like to understand how stress hormones, called glucocorticoids, affect insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Understanding how these stress hormones might be linked to Type 2 diabetes might uncover new ways to treat the condition in the future.

Background to research

Glucocorticoids are stress hormones that work in the body to stop inflammation. They’re produced and released by the adrenal gland, but sometimes they can also be prescribed as a treatment for inflammatory conditions, like eczema.

Researchers think that high levels of these hormones might stop insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas from working properly and reduce the amount of insulin they make. In turn, this might contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

But recent data from Professor Hodson’s lab suggests that glucocorticoids produced inside the body might actually protect beta cells. They believe it’s not the stress hormones themselves that are harmful, but the interaction between stress hormones and molecules of fat.

Professor Hodson and his team think it might be possible to take advantage of how stress hormones work and boost insulin production in people with Type 2 diabetes.

Research aims

Professor Hodson will study how living beta cells behave when they encounter stress hormones in the lab. He’ll also look at what happens when fat molecules are present as well.

As cells grown in the laboratory don’t always behave the same way as they do inside the body, the team will also study beta cells in mice. This way, they can add build on the results they see in the lab.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

With 3 million people living with Type 2 diabetes in the UK, we need to make sure everyone has access to effective treatments. Understanding how stress hormones and fats affect the pancreas could help us build a better picture of what happens inside the body in people with Type 2 diabetes.

In turn, this could help scientists to uncover new ways to treat Type 2 diabetes in the future. 

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