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Keeping mitochondria healthy to prevent Type 2

Project summary

Nutrient-induced mitochondrial dysfunction and its reciprocal control by inflammatory signalling: implications for skeletal muscle insulin action

High levels of fat can cause mitochondria (important structures inside our cells that burn fuel) to become stressed and break down. This is linked to inflammation and insulin resistance: two important features of Type 2 diabetes. Professor Hundal wants to know if, and how, unsaturated fats or metformin might protect the mitochondria and keep insulin resistance at bay. In the future, this could help to prevent Type 2 diabetes from developing.

Background to research

Cells within our bodies continuously burn fats and carbohydrates for fuel using structures called ‘mitochondria’ – the power houses of the human cell. Too many nutrients (such as saturated fats) can overwhelm the mitochondria and cause them to stop functioning properly. They become stressed and begin to break down, and this has been linked to higher levels of inflammation and insulin resistance (where the cells in the body stop responding properly to insulin). Insulin resistance and inflammation are key features of Type 2 diabetes. Professor Hundal believes that ‘good fats’ (known as mono- or polyunsaturated fats) or metformin – a common Type 2 diabetes drug – might be able to keep mitochondria healthy. His early research suggests that unsaturated fats might protect the mitochondria, preventing inflammation and stopping the body from becoming desensitised to insulin.

Research aims

Professor Hundal wants to build on the research he’s done so far, working out how unsaturated fats or metformin might protect the mitochondria from breaking down. He plans to use muscle cells in the lab to study the mitochondria and the impact of fats and metformin on them in great detail. In doing so, Professor Hundal’s work aims to offer new insight into how insulin resistance develops and how it could be prevented or treated in the future.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

At Diabetes UK we are committed to finding better ways to prevent and treat Type 2 diabetes. This project will provide important insights into how insulin resistance develops in people with Type 2 diabetes, and how it could be prevented or treated in the future – either using dietary interventions or drugs. In turn, this could help to reduce the number of people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in the future. 

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