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Fighting toxic fatty acids in Type 2

Project summary

Investigating the relationship between fatty acid metabolism and the control of viability in human beta cells

Increased levels of fatty acid molecules in people with Type 2 diabetes are thought to contribute to the death and malfunction of insulin-producing beta cells. This research will clarify the role of different fatty acids when broken down in human beta cells and could identify potential new therapies to reduce fatty acid toxicity.

Background to research

Fatty acids are a key component of fats and an important source of energy. Increased fatty acid levels in people with Type 2 diabetes are thought to contribute to the death and malfunction of insulin-producing beta cells. However, the exact mechanisms by which this occurs are unclear and a better understanding is necessary to help us address the causes of the condition. Some fatty acids are toxic to beta cells, whereas others seem to prevent harm. Some studies suggest that the breakdown of fatty acids by beta cells may cause an increase in harmful by-products that damage cell components and lead to beta cell death. Conversely, other studies suggest that the breakdown of fatty acids may actually render them harmless to beta cells.

Research aims

This research will clarify the role of fatty acids in insulin-producing beta cells. While many previous studies have been carried out in rat or mouse beta cells, the student on this study will use experiments in a new line of human beta cells to ensure that this work is as relevant as possible to human Type 2 diabetes. The cells will be treated with a range of fatty acids, including those known to cause toxicity and those that are not toxic to beta cells. State-of-the-art equipment will then be used to non-invasively measure fatty acid breakdown in real time. This will reveal how different fatty acids are broken down by beta cells and whether this is necessary to produce toxic effects. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Findings from this study will provide new insights into the break down of fatty acids in beta cells. They will help scientists to uncover potential new treatments for diabetes aimed at reducing fatty acid toxicity and improving the survival and function of beta cells. As fatty acids are an important component of the diet, this research could also help to reveal types of food that contain the best combinations of fatty acids and which might help to reduce the death and malfunction of beta cells. 

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