Our genes contain all our hereditary information and are specific nucleotide sequences in DNA. Genes are amazing because they help to build the cells in our body but sometimes they can be quite harmful. Last year Dr. Ross Laybutt and the research team at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research made a discovery that could hold the key to protecting people who are affected by Type 2 Diabetes.
Image 1: Gene
Type 2 Diabetes is known as a lifestyle disease that occurs when the Pancreas makes a small amount of hormone called insulin. We need a large amount of insulin to move the glucose from the bloodstream to all of the cells in our body where they are able to force “synthesis and storage of glycogen in the liver”[i]. Ultimately helping the synthesis of both fat and protein. Smaller amounts of insulin result in dangerously high levels of glucose in the blood. This is known as Hypoglycemia. This will become apparent due to a high fat diet, high blood pressure and inactivity. Type 2 Diabetes can be managed with a healthy diet, regular physical activity and insulin injections, but for the time being there is no cure for the disease.
Image 2: Insulin and Beta Cells in the Pancreas
Located in the Pancreas are Beta cells which sense changes in the glucose levels circulating the blood stream. These senses trigger the formation and release of insulin.
Image 3: Increased insulin and glucose in the bloodstream.
These cells fail to work when they lose their “specialized expression patterns”[ii]. These patterns make sure that the cells are performing their normal function – to produce the right amount of insulin. In the past, scientists thought that the decrease in Beta Cell functioning and the drop of insulin production was because of a “decrease in Beta cell mass overtime”[iii]. However it has recently been discovered that a decrease in Beta Cell function occurs over time. The drop of production rate will only occur when the Beta cells in the body cannot cope under the stresses that normal Beta Cells are able to tolerate. These are known as susceptible Beta cells. Luckily these cells are only found in one third of the obese population. The genetic scientists at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research believe that one single gene is causing the dysfunction of susceptible Beta cells when glucose levels become too high. This gene is known as Id1.
Id1 gene usually lies dormant, however when exposed to environmental factors such as a high fat diet, this gene becomes activated and disrupts the Beta cell production.
The researchers did studies on animal models and human cell cultures. The experiments showed that in pancreatic tissue containing susceptible Beta cells the Id1 gene was activated. Dr. Laybutt said “If we can block this gene, we might be able to prevent or even reverse diabetes”[iv]. This would allow the Beta cells to constantly make insulin and be protected from Id1, and most importantly, the effects of a high fat diet on the cells. The Id1 gene also plays a role in cancer cells. With a drug already targeting the gene in cancer treatment, the Garvan Institute is currently working on tests to evaluate whether the drug is also able to deactivate the gene in the case of Diabetes.
Image 4: Drug to attack Id1 gene.
[i] Meyers, Noel, Lisa A. Urry, Michael L. Cain, Steven A. Wasserman, Peter V. Minorsky, Robert B. Jackson, Bernard N. Cooke, and Neal A. Campbell. "Introduction: Themes in the Study of Life." Campbell Biology. By Jane B. Reece. 9th ed. China: Pearson, 2012. 8. Print. Australian Version.
Tasker, Belinda. "Gene Could Hold Key to Reversing Diabetes." The Age [Melbourne] 23 Sept. 2011. The Age. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://www.theage.com.au/national/gene-could-hold-key-to-reversing-diabetes-20110923-1knm2.html#ixzz1p4Y70pEW>.
[ii] Laybutt, Dr. Ross. "Laybutt." Garvan Institute of Medical Research. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <http://www.garvan.org.au/research/research-groups/Laybutt.html>.
[iii] Clark, Anne, Lucy C. Jones, Eelco De Koning, Barbara C. Hansen, and David R.
Matthews. "Decrease Insulin Secretion in Type 2 Diabetes: A Problem of Cellular Mass or Function?" Diabetes 1st ser. 50 (2001): 169-71. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/50/suppl_1/S169.full.pdf>.
[iv]Creagh, Sunanda. "Could a Drug Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?" The Converstion. 23 Sept. 2011. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <http://theconversation.edu.au/could-a-drug-reverse-type-2-diabetes-3512>.