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Tracking hypos to the hypothalamus

Project summary

Understanding the underlying causes of hypoglycaemia unawareness

Professor Simon Luckman at the University of Manchester has identified cells in the hypothalamus that sense hypos. His team will use cutting edge techniques to study these cells and determine why they lose sensitivity after repeated hypos. This could help us find targets for new drugs to treat or prevent hypo unawareness.

Background to research

Severe hypos can be a major problem for people who have lived with diabetes for many years, and are a particular concern for people who intensively control their diabetes with insulin therapy. Repeated hypos cause the brain to stop responding normally to low blood glucose, and over time people can become less aware of when they’re on the verge of a severe hypo (so called ‘hypo unawareness’). This is a particular problem in the elderly and there are currently no treatments available because the exact causes are unknown. What has been known for many years, is that a small part of the brain known as the hypothalamus contains specialised cells that sense when glucose levels are dangerously low. When these cells are activated, the brain signals other organs and tells them to produce more glucose and release it into the blood. However, until recently, the cells and the chemical pathways that control this process had not been accurately identified.

Research aims

Professor Simon Luckman at the University of Manchester has, for the first time, identified the type of cells in the hypothalamus that appear to sense hypoglycaemia. His team will now use cutting edge techniques to visualise these cells, record their activity and determine why they lose their sensitivity after repeated hypos. Studying normal mice, mice with diabetes, and mice that have undergone repeated insulin treatment they will be able to pinpoint why the system loses its ability to respond.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Professor Luckman hopes that this research will help to identify new drug targets that could be used to treat or prevent the development of hypo unawareness. This information could be used by drug companies to develop treatments over the next decade.

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