Controlling diabetes could be easier with the help of one tiny protein

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Small protein could prevent, treat type 2 diabetes

Researchers have discovered a tiny protein that is linked to aging could play a big role in controlling blood sugar levels for those with diabetes. Findings published by Indiana University School of Medicine in the journal Diabetes found the protein, Sestrin 3, plays a critical role in controlling insulin sensitivity and glucose production.

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What the researchers propose is a new target for treating type 2 diabetes that could be developed from the protein. Sestrin 3 could also be developed to prevent diabetes.

Protein regulates glucose in the liver

Beta cells in the pancreas help regulate glucose. Researchers have been trying to find ways to boost beta cell production in the pancreas to aid diabetes treatment. One such drug being explored is Betatrophin. Elevated blood sugars, over time, destroy the ability of beta-cells to release insulin.

Sestrin 3 works in a different way because it's active in helping maintain metabolic homeostasis in the liver. Scientists recently studied mice to find out that removing fat from the liver essentially cured type 2 diabetes.

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The discovery came from mice engineered with and without the Sestrin 3 protein. The researchers fed the mice either a low fat or a high fat diet - one with 18 percent of calories from fat or 60 percent fat calories.

Mice with the protein had significantly better glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity than those without Sestrin 3.

"We wanted to show that Sestrin 3 had critical liver-specific functions," said lead author X. Charlie Dong, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the IU School of Medicine. "This is a very fascinating protein. It's not very big, but it functions in a very dynamic manner controlling glucose production and insulin sensitivity. It is an important regulator for glucose homeostasis."

Dong believes the Sestrin 3 protein has promise for controlling and preventing type 2 diabetes that could be developed for drug therapy.

Image of Sestrin 3 protein courtesy Indiana University School of Medicine

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