Some people with Type 1 diabetes can lose the ability to spot the warning signs of low blood sugar levels, called hypos. Dr Craig Beall wants to find new ways to help people with diabetes avoid hypos and bring back their hypo awareness. To do this, his PhD student will study a drug that works on a molecule involved in sensing energy levels, called AMPK, which might be able to boost the body’s defences against hypos.
Background to research
When blood sugar levels drop too low it’s called a hypo. Hypos can be frightening, unpleasant, or in their worst cases, fatal. Some people with Type 1 diabetes can also lose their ability to spot the warning signs of a hypo, known as hypo unawareness, putting them at greater risk of dangerous side-effects.
In our body, we have an energy sensing molecule called AMPK. AMPK switches on when our body’s fuel levels are low, like in a hypo. It helps us to conserve fuel and to generate new energy, by making us feel hungry and breaking down fat stores. Drugs that activate AMPK have been developed to help people with Type 2 diabetes to manage their blood sugar levels, but Dr Craig Beall thinks they might also help to defend against hypos. He’s discovered that a new drug which works on AMPK can boost the release of a hormone called glucagon – that raises blood glucose levels when they fall too low – in rats.
Dr Beall and his PhD student now want to better understand how this drug works, and how it might be used to prevent hypos and help people with hypo unawareness in the future. His student will study the cells in the pancreas responsible for releasing glucagon, called alpha cells, and how they can defend against hypos.
The research student will look at the effect the drug has on different cell types found within the pancreas of rats. And they’ll explore how the drug helps the pancreas to release glucagon, in order to prevent hypos. The researchers will treat rats, with and without diabetes, with the drug to see if it improves their hypo awareness.
Potential benefit to people with diabetes
We need to help people with diabetes to avoid hypos and bring back their hypo awareness. If successful, this research could lead to the development of new drugs that can prevent hypos and, in turn, improve peoples’ ability to recognise the signs of low blood sugars.
New treatments would make a huge difference for people with diabetes, removing anxiety, making living with the condition easier and, crucially, protecting people from the potentially serious consequences of hypos.