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Family history and physical inactivity in Type 2

Project summary

Characterising the metabolic disruption caused by brief periods of reduced physical activity in people with a family history of Type 2 diabetes

Dr Cuthbertson’s PhD student will investigate the impact of reduced physical activity in people with or without a family history of Type 2 diabetes. They hope to find out if family history increases the risk of harmful metabolic changes as a result of being less active. Findings could lead to more accurate guidance and help to identify new targets for Type 2 diabetes therapies.

Background to research

Physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles are a growing problem worldwide and can have a serious impact on health by increasing an individual’s risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Recent studies have shown that moving less and sitting more are harmful (due to their impact on body weight, and on fat and glucose metabolism), but we do not fully understand why, or if these behaviours are more harmful for people who have a history of diabetes in their families.

Research aims

A student supervised by Dr Daniel Cuthbertson at the University of Liverpool will investigate the impact of reduced physical activity on 25 people with and 25 people without a family history of Type 2 diabetes. The aim is to find out how low levels of physical activity contribute to Type 2 diabetes and if family history of Type 2 makes individuals more likely to suffer from harmful metabolic changes as a result of being less active. Those who take part in the study will reduce their physical activity from around 10,000 steps a day to around 1,500 steps a day for a period of 21 days. MRI scans and other imaging techniques will then be used to study changes in participants’ body fat. Other techniques will also be used to look for changes in insulin release and sensitivity, blood vessel health and markers that predict the risk of Type 2 diabetes. The student will also look at whether these changes are reversed if physical activity levels return to 10,000 steps a day for a further 21 days. The researchers predict that reduced physical activity levels will have a bigger impact on the metabolic and vascular health of people with a family history of Type 2 diabetes, than on people without such history.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

This study will help us to understand the impact of physical inactivity on the mechanisms underlying the development of Type 2 diabetes. It will also help to reveal the exact relationship between levels of physical activity and metabolic health. Findings will be of particular benefit to the family members of people with Type 2 diabetes, by enabling healthcare professionals to give them more accurate advice on the levels of physical activity needed to help them reduce their risk of developing the condition themselves. Understanding genetic adaptations to inactivity could also help researchers to identify new targets for Type 2 diabetes therapies.

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