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GLUT Instinct: How do fat cells control blood sugar levels?

Project summary

Muscle and fat cells absorb sugar from the blood, using an important protein called GLUT4. But we don’t completely understand how GLUT4 is controlled. Dr Koumanov believes it could be a newly discovered protein called retriever, so she wants to study fat cells to find out for certain. If successful, these findings could help scientists to develop new ways to prevent or treat Type 2 diabetes

Background to research

In people without Type 2 diabetes, the hormone insulin tells muscle and fat cells to take in sugar from the blood stream. In Type 2 diabetes, many cells inside the body don’t respond properly to insulin and stop taking sugar in. This is referred to as insulin resistance, and results in a build-up of sugar in the bloodstream.

Scientists can look closely at how sugar in the blood is absorbed into fat and muscle. They know is happens via a molecule called a transporter, or GLUT4. In order to absorb sugar into the cells, GLUT4 must be moved to the cell surface by a combination of proteins, called a complex. We don’t know what the complex us, but Dr Koumanov thinks is could be a newly discovered one called ‘retriever’.

Retriever is responsible for moving proteins to and from the cell surface, including many that are similar to GLUT4. We don’t yet know if retriever moves GLUT4, but if it does, it could also have a role in Type 2 diabetes. This could mean that new treatments could be developed to work on retriever.

Research aims

Dr Koumanov will remove the retriever protein from fat cells in the lab and study how they use fat and sugar, to see if they still work like normal fat cells.

Dr Koumanov will find out if removing the retriever protein from fat cells also affects GLUT4. And in turn, if this makes the cells resistant to insulin. Finally, she will recreate a high fat diet by treating healthy fat cells with insulin and fatty acids. She wants to see if this changes the levels of the retriever protein.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Understanding more about how muscle and fat cells absorb sugar from the bloodstream will help us to learn more about insulin resistance and how it develops. In the future, this could lead to more effective ways to prevent or treat Type 2 diabetes.

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