SCIENTISTS AT Trinity College Dublin have come up with a possible new way to treat the onset of type 2 diabetes. They identified a substance that helps to trigger damage associated with the disease, opening the possibility of new drug therapies.
Type 2 diabetes is a world health issue given its increasing incidence, largely driven by obesity, explained Prof Luke O’Neill, professor of biochemistry in Trinity College Dublin’s Immunology Research Centre.
It is “a big problem in Ireland”, Prof O’Neill said. “There is a huge need to come up with new treatments.”
Estimates suggest that up to 14 per cent of the Irish population over 40 have diabetes, and a tenth of the entire healthcare budget is spent treating diabetes and its complications, Prof O’Neill said.
More than 2,000 people die here every year as a result of diabetes-related diseases.
Diabetes occurs when the body cannot properly regulate sugar levels in the body. This in turn causes damage to a wide range of tissues over time if not controlled by giving the hormone insulin.
Symptoms include fatigue, blurred vision, slow wound healing particularly in the extremities and damage to organs. It also leaves diabetics with a higher risk of heart attacks.
Type 1 diabetes usually arises in childhood when the pancreatic cells that make insulin are destroyed by the body’s own immune system.
Type 2 usually arises later and in the main is a lifestyle disorder, in particular brought on by obesity.
Both types leave the body unable to regulate sugar levels, with type 2 controlled by insulin tablets and a careful diet. Both also are linked to an inappropriate immune response that sees our protective immune cells causing damage to the pancreas.
The researchers have opened the way for new treatments as a result of their discovery, details of which were published online yesterday by the leading journal, Nature Immunology.
“We have found what might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in type 2 diabetes,” stated Dr Seth Masters, lead author of the publication.
It is all down to a substance known as Islet Amyloid Polypeptide (IAPP), Prof O’Neill said.
“We have come across a key protein in the body called IAPP. This irritates the immune system in the body,” Prof O’Neill said. “It is a breakthrough because nobody has come across this before.”
The effect of IAPP is to ramp up the immune response where it occurs in the pancreas.
DICK AHLSTROM/Irish Times