Researchers have used a new technique that uses computer modeling to discover type 2 diabetes isn’t in the genes and is preventable and treatable in groundbreaking studies.
According to the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) researchers who are studying cell metabolism to find out genetic links to diseases, type 2 diabetes is triggered by changes in cellular metabolism and not by a genetic predisposition to the disease.
Jamey Marth who was based at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in La Jolla in 2008 identified four main building blocks of all cells in the body that are genetic macromolecules, such as DNA and RNA that are innate.
Marth also found two other acquired macromolecules known as glycans and lipids that play a key role in cellular metabolism.
"By studying the four types of components that make up the cell, we can, for the first time, begin to understand what causes many of the common grievous diseases that exist in the absence of definable genetic variation, but, instead, are due to environmental and metabolic alterations of our cells," said Marth in a press release.
He explains UCSB is the only institution using computer modeling to study disease.
The researchers discovered how our cells can reach a ‘tipping’ point that leads to type 2 diabetes when the cells in the pancreas fail to make enough insulin to control blood sugar levels.
He explains obesity has been blamed for type 2 diabetes, but there’s more to the story that relates to cellular dysfunction that hasn't been fully explained.
Marth says, “In obesity there's a lot of fat in the system. When the cell is exposed to high levels of fat or lipids, this mechanism starts, and that's how environment plays a role, among large segments of the population bearing 'normal' genetic variation.”
But understanding what actually causes diabetes has been elusive. Marth and his team are trying to understand exactly how it happens to design better therapy and prevention tools.
The scientists say the research approach can also be used to uncover how other diseases occur, including autoimmune diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and more.
Understanding more about the cellular mechanism that actually causes type 2 diabetes could lead to prevention strategies and even a cure, which the researchers say they anticipate.
Luni C, Marth JD, Doyle FJ III (2012) Computational Modeling of Glucose Transport in Pancreatic β-Cells Identifies Metabolic Thresholds and Therapeutic Targets in Diabetes. PLoS ONE 7(12): e53130. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053130
Image credit: Morguefile