Changes to our insulin-producing beta cells that happen as we get older are linked to Type 2 diabetes, but we don’t yet know how or why. Professor Masashi Narita will study cells in the lab to shed light on this link. In the future, this could lead to the development of new treatments to combat the effects of ageing on beta cells, and help to prevent Type 2 diabetes.
Background to research
The cycle of life and death of the cells in our bodies is an essential and normal process. But as we get older, some of our cells enter a zombie-like state, where even though they’re no longer needed, they don’t die.
The ‘zombie cells’ release harmful products that can damage surrounding tissue and turn other cells into zombies too. This is called cell senescence, and scientists have discovered that it contributes to ageing and the development of some health conditions in mice.
Professor Narita has found out that insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas undergo senescence during ageing. But, unexpectedly, once they become zombie beta cells they’re able to produce more insulin than before.
Professor Narita will explore the role that beta cell senescence plays in ageing and Type 2 diabetes. He wants to work out whether it contributes to, or protects against, Type 2 diabetes.
Professor Narita and his team will study the differences between zombie and healthy beta cells taken from mice, and from people with and without Type 2 diabetes.
Next, they will block the beta cells from becoming zombies and look at how this affects the development of Type 2 diabetes. They will use cutting edge techniques to explore the structure, activity and interactions between genes in zombie beta cells. This could help scientists to develop new treatments that target beta cell senescence.
Potential benefit to people with diabetes
As people get older, their risk of Type 2 diabetes increases. This research could help us understand why, and could open the door to finding new ways to combat the effects of ageing to improve the treatment or prevention of Type 2 diabetes.