Newly diagnosed type 2 diabetics tend to have one thing in common: obesity. Exactly how diet and obesity trigger diabetes has long been the subject of intense scientific research. A new study published online August 14 in Nature Medicine reveals a pathway that links high-fat diets to a sequence of molecular events responsible for the onset and severity of diabetes.
In studies spanning mice and humans, a research team at the Center for Nanomedicine, a collaboration between Sanford-Burnham and the University of California, Santa Barbara, discovered a pathway to disease that is activated in pancreatic beta cells, and then leads to metabolic defects in other organs and tissues, including the liver, muscle and adipose (fat). Together, this adds up to diabetes.
“We were initially surprised to learn how much the pancreatic beta cell contributes to the onset and severity of diabetes,” says Dr. Jamey Marth, director of the Center for Nanomedicine and senior author of the study. “The observation that beta cell malfunction significantly contributes to multiple disease signs, including insulin resistance, was unexpected. We noted, however, that studies from other laboratories published over the past few decades had alluded to this possibility.”
In healthy people, pancreatic beta cells monitor the bloodstream for glucose using glucose transporters anchored in their cellular membranes. When blood glucose is high, such as after a meal, beta cells take in this additional glucose and respond by secreting insulin in a timed and measured response. In turn, insulin stimulates other cells in the body to take up glucose, a nutrient they need to produce energy.