A team of researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh is using new molecular microscopic techniques on SNARE proteins in an attempt to identify how insulin release is regulated during Type 2 diabetes.
SNARE proteins are targeted by Botox treatments, preventing them from helping muscles contract. However, their role goes well beyond the cosmetic realm, such as their work in the human pancreas.
Stablising blood glucose levels
Dr Colin Rickman and his team are observing SNARE proteins in pancreatic beta-cells, the highly specialised cells that release insulin and stabilise blood glucose levels.
"The human body has a system for storing glucose and releasing it when the body needs energy. This system controlled by the release of insulin," explained Dr Rickman.
"When a person is obese, which a worryingly high and increasing number of people in the UK are, this system is put under pressure and eventually leads to Type 2 diabetes. We know SNARE proteins are responsible for insulin secretion, but it’s still not understood exactly how they do it.
"Once we can understand how these proteins beh Ultimately this could lead to new methods of diagnosis, prevention of the cells’ failure that leads to diabetes and also treatments for Type 2 diabetes."
Dramatic increase in UK diabetes
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the beta-cells can’t cope with the prolonged high glucose levels of some obese patients and so secrete less insulin. The beta-cells lose both mass and function, but the reasons for this have always been unclear.
The Heriot-Watt team hopes to answer these questions by observing SNARE proteins in the cell for the first time, pinpointing their exact location in an area equivalent to a ten-thousandth of a human hair.
From 1996 – 2012, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes increased by 1.5 million. It is estimated that five million people will have diabetes in the UK by 2025, due in part to an ageing population and a dramatic increase in the number of overweight and obese people.