Researchers at the Medical College of Ohio have identified a protein in the liver that helps clear insulin from blood. This discovery could lead to a cure for type 2 diabetes, a condition that affects 16 million people in the United States and is often linked to obesity.
It has been a common belief among scientists that type 2 diabetes is initiated when the body’s muscles, fat tissues, and liver stop responding to insulin. Insulin brings sugar from blood into muscle and fat tissues to be stored as fuel, and stops the liver from making its own sugar. Lack of response to insulin in type 2 diabetes leads to increased sugar levels in the blood.
Sonia M. Najjar Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and therapeutics, contends that type 2 diabetes may actually begin a step before the body starts resisting insulin. Using genetically modified mice, Najjar has determined when there are increased amounts of fat in the body, the liver’s ability to clear insulin is impaired. This in turn, can lead to insulin resistance in the liver and other tissues.
This discovery, coupled with the identification of CEACAM1, a liver protein that controls insulin clearance, may play a major role in the battle against type 2 diabetes.
“I can easily envision a drug that enhances the function of this protein and leads to a cure for type 2 diabetes,” said Najjar.
Finding a cure for type 2 diabetes becomes more vital as more Americans, especially juveniles and adolescents, become obese. Increased obesity results in younger and younger individuals being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Deaths related to obesity now rank second only to deaths related to tobacco. And diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.