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Unravelling DNA structures and diabetes risk

Project summary

Our genes can put us at greater risk of type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Dr Zoe Waller has found molecules in a specific region of our DNA that control whether genes involved in producing insulin are switched on or off. She now wants to understand how and why they do this. This could improve our understanding of the genetics behind diabetes and lead to new treatments to treat the conditions.

Background to research

We know that changes in some of our genes can put us at greater risk of either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. One of those changes takes place at a specific region of our DNA, called the insulin-minisatellite. But we don’t understand exactly how this change goes on to increase the risk of type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

This insulin-minisatellite region can control whether genes linked to insulin production are switched on or off. Dr Waller has already found specific molecules that that are involved in this on/off switch, as they interact with the insulin-minisatellite region. She has also shown that this on/off switch changes the amount of insulin produced by insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Dr Waller now wants to study these further, to see if any of them could lead to new drugs.

Research aims

Dr Waller hopes to find out how and why these molecules switch insulin-related genes on or off. She’ll do this by looking at how they interact with the insulin-minisatellite in cells taken from people with diabetes.

The research team will make new molecules in the lab, slightly different to the ones they’ve already identified. By adding extra parts to them, the team can watch the new modified molecules as they move through the body. They can find out where they go and what they interact with. This way, they can find out what the molecules involved in switching genes on and off actually do.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

This research could give us a more detailed insight into the genetics behind diabetes and what can be done to help people at high risk of type 1 or type 2 diabetes lower their risk. In the future, this research could also help to develop new drugs that reach the genes involved in insulin production, to help treat type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Adopted by:
Diabetes UK local group: Chelmsford and District
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