My muscles are diabetic! – Understanding the genetics of organ-specific Type 2 Diabetes

By Sufyan Suleman, Research Assistant

Are you always thirsty? Has your appetite increased, or do you urinate more often than you used to? Do you feel tired even when you are well rested? If you answer yes to these questions, there’s a chance that an important hormone called insulin is not working properly. Insulin helps our body to control the amount of sugar (glucose) in our bloodstream. If your body starts to release too little insulin, or stops responding to the insulin that is released, glucose levels can reach higher levels. When this happens, you can be diagnosed with the disease diabetes, which can have serious health consequences if left untreated.

Insulin reaches our organs after it is released into the bloodstream by the pancreas, a small organ near the liver. Scientists have tools to calculate insulin action in different organs, such as the liver, muscles and fat storing tissues as well as the whole body. Thanks to advancements in human genome sequencing technology, we now know that insulin action is linked to our genetics (DNA), which is inherited from our parents, and which we pass on to our children. DNA linked with disease passes on to generations by this way and our goal is to identify that regions of DNA that are linked with type 2 diabetes.

At CBMR, we carry out basic research into the biological systems behind the causes and outcomes of diabetes, which might help us to develop better treatments for the disease. I joined CBMR in August 2019 and work on a project that examines how different organs react to insulin, to what extent their response is inherited, and how organ- specific insulin action is related to other diseases such as heart and blood pressure problems.

What we have yet to learn is if there are some specific regions of our genome that are linked to organ-specific insulin action. We also don’t know if those organ-specific genetic regions are hereditary and if so which of these genetic regions are actually involved in reducing the effectiveness of insulin.

Answering these questions is the aim of an exciting new project I am working on, which combines blood glucose and insulin readings, effectiveness of insulin action in different organs, together with organ-specific genetic data from all those sample and state of the art computational technologies. At CBMR we have all the resources we need, including several group of samples from families and general population. The research will help us to create an organ-based risk score for individuals at risk of developing insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes. After the successful completion of the project, this risk score could be used by physician to guide individuals for better management and prevention strategies and to predict other diseases that are linked with type 2 diabetes The risk score can also tell us how the other diseases contribute to the development of diabetes. Drug development agencies might also be interested, as the research could provide new drug targets and open window for precision medicine.

Published by

CBMR Communications

Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR)

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