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Why is exercise good for people with Type 2 diabetes?

Project summary

Skeletal muscle to pancreatic beta cell crosstalk: can exercise improve the function of pancreatic beta-cells during nutritional overload?

We know that exercise is good for people with Type 2 diabetes, but Dr Barlow would like to understand the relationship between the two better. He’ll look at the direct effects of muscle contraction on insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, to find out exactly why exercise is beneficial for people with Type 2 diabetes and how this could be maximised in the future.

Background to research

We know exercise is beneficial for people with Type 2 diabetes and that exercise can slow down its progression. It’s thought that exercise heightens the muscle cells’ sensitivity to insulin and improves the levels of insulin produced by beta cells in the pancreas. However, we don’t fully understand why this happens, and whether muscle cells produce specific molecules during exercise that bring about these positive changes in the body. Earlier research suggests that these molecules may exist and may be directly affecting insulin-producing beta cells, at least in people without Type 2 diabetes. We don’t yet know if this happens in people with Type 2 diabetes.

Research aims

Dr Barlow will be building on this early research, to understand how molecules produced by muscles during exercise influence beta cells and whether they bring about positive changes inside the body in people with Type 2 diabetes. He will set up a model of exercising muscle cells in a petri dish, and see what molecules are produced. He’ll then add these molecules to insulin-producing beta cells surrounded by high levels of glucose and fat (mimicking the conditions of Type 2 diabetes) and see whether they can stimulate the beta cells to produce more insulin.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

At Diabetes UK we are committed to improving the health and wellbeing of people with Type 2 diabetes. Understanding exactly why exercise is beneficial for people with Type 2 diabetes will help to develop better treatments to improve the health of people with this condition in the future. If specific molecules produced by exercising muscle have beneficial effects on beta cells, they could potentially be developed into new Type 2 diabetes treatments.

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