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Why do bone cells age earlier in Type 1 diabetes?

Project summary

Bone cells appear to age earlier in people with Type 1 diabetes, which can make bone fractures more likely. Professor Lynne Cox wants to find the root cause of why bone cells age, and develop treatments that improve bone strength and prevent fractures. This could help people with Type 1 diabetes to stay healthy as they get older.

Background to research

People with Type 1 diabetes are at a higher risk of bone fractures as they get older. Our bones are constantly renewed through a process of recycling old bone cells and making new ones; which is important to keep bones healthy. This cycle is controlled by cells, called osteocytes.

As we age, some of our cells begin to go wrong. They start to resist being recycled and don’t die, essentially becoming ‘zombie cells’. The zombie cells behave differently to normal cells. They can break down surrounding tissues and force other cells to become zombies too, making the damage worse. This can affect the structure of bone, making it less flexible and more likely to break.

Professor Lynne Cox has discovered that osteocytes start becoming zombie-like earlier than normal in Type 1 diabetes.

Research aims

Professor Cox now wants to understand more about bone fragility in people with Type 1 diabetes and develop new treatments that stop it.

To do this, the researchers will first find out how many bones cells become zombie-like and study what makes them different from normal bone cells. They will use X-rays to compare bones from mice of different ages, with and without Type 1 diabetes, and measure bone strength.

They’ll then test out different drugs to see if they can either kill zombie cells, or make the cells behave normally again. If successful, they’ll treat mice with these drugs and measure if this can improve bone strength as they age.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Figuring out the precise changes that make older people with Type 1 diabetes more likely to have bone fractures could help scientists find ways to reduce this risk.

This could help people with Type 1 diabetes to stay healthy as they age and improve their quality of life. 

This project is co-funded with the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership
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