Diabetes Hope As Protein Structure Is Laid Bare

Armen Hareyan's picture

Type-2 Diabetes Hope

Scientists at Oxford and Manchester Universities have got first sight of the structure of a protein that is important for type-2 (adult onset) diabetes.

The research, published in the European Molecular Biology Organization Journal, will not only give a greater understanding of the disease but may lead to better treatments.

Professor Frances Ashcroft, who led the Oxford team that isolated the protein said: 'Diabetes is a big problem in Western societies. It affects 1.5 million people in the UK and is set to become even worse because the population is getting more obese.

'We have managed to produce the first three-dimensional picture of this protein,' said Professor Robert Ford, the structural biologist leading the research in Manchester.

'It's a very complicated beast: it actually comprises eight different proteins cooperating together in a large, complex structure.


'Until now, scientists have had to work largely in the dark; our research at last shines a light on the functionally significant parts of the structure.'

Prof Mark Sansom, part of the Oxford team, said: 'We used computer modeling to help interpret the structure. This shows the power of this type of approach for increasing the information that can be obtained from experimental biological data.'

The protein, called the K-ATP channel, is essential for the beta-cells of the pancreas to release the hormone insulin. Diabetes results when not enough insulin is released to meet the body's demands.

The K-ATP channel protein is the target for anti-diabetic drugs that are taken by millions of type-2 diabetics every day. They work by blocking the protein's function, which leads to insulin release.

Mutations in the genes that code for the K-ATP channel result in changes in the protein's structure and cause babies to be born with diabetes.

Professor Frances Ashcroft said: 'Forty per cent of the population have a variant in the KATP channel gene that increases their risk of type 2 diabetes. Knowing how this protein is put together will help us understand its role in diabetes and why some people are at higher risk. It will also show how drugs used to control the condition actually work and perhaps lead to new and better drugs.'