U of A research uncovers treatment 'pathway' for Type 2 diabetes

Researcher Patrick MacDonald says he and his team have found the “dimmer switch” to diabetes, findings that could potentially shed light in finding new ways to treat the disease.

Research finds way to restore pancreatic cells, providing hope for treatment

University of Alberta researcher Patrick MacDonald is senior author of a study on Type 2 diabetes, which he says has taken a significant step toward "understanding what's going wrong in the first place" with the disease. (CBC)

University of Alberta researcher Patrick MacDonald says he and his team have found a  "dimmer switch" for Type 2 diabetes, findings that could shed light on developing new ways to treat the disease.

The researchers looked at pancreatic cells from 99 human donors. They found what they're dubbing a "dimmer switch," or a new molecular pathway, that manages how much insulin is produced by the cells. The pathway can adjust the amount of insulin in the body. 

The dimmer switch disappears in Type 2 diabetes, but it can be restored back to levels where the proper amount of insulin is secreted, said MacDonald.

"The really exciting thing is that we can go in with some molecular and biochemical tricks and we can restore that function in people with Type 2 diabetes," said MacDonald, an associate professor in the pharmacology department at the U of A.

MacDonald is the senior author of the study,  recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

He worked with researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Texas and at Duke University. A team of investigators funded by Pfizer, a U-S based multinational pharmaceutical corporation, also contributed to the five-year study.

"Understanding the islet cells in the pancreas that make insulin, how they work and how they can fail, could lead to new ways to treat the disease, delaying or even preventing diabetes," said MacDonald.

The research team's goal was to look at how insulin is produced and what goes wrong with insulin production in those with Type 2 diabetes.

MacDonald credits being able to use pancreatic cells from organ donors as a large factor in the success of the research. Until the project began, researchers studying diabetes didn't have access to pancreatic tissue from people suffering from diabetes.

Ten million Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes.

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