NU research could identify solution to diabetes

Maud Webster discusses exciting diabetes research being performed by a Newcastle University professor.

Maud Webster
10th October 2019
Credit: Pixabay-stevepb
The WHO [World Health Organisation] estimates that by 2030, diabetes will be the seventh leading cause of death worldwide. It’s becoming an increasingly critical medical issue - but one that researchers at Newcastle University have come close to finding a possible solution to.

Whilst most people are familiar with diabetes, they find it a bit trickier to differentiate between the two types; the simple difference is that type 1 isn’t affected by an individual’s lifestyle because it is caused by an inherent inability to produce insulin, whereas type two is because it is caused by an inadequate response to rising insulin levels. Whilst only 8% of people with diabetes are affected by type one, around 90% of diabetes sufferers are affected by type two.

So, what causes type two diabetes? It was considered for a long time to be a chronic disease, with a vague and complicated cause. But now, research conducted by Newcastle’s Prof. Taylor - Director of the Newcastle Magnetic Resonance Centre - suggests a simpler answer: excess fat in the liver and pancreas. In the liver, this leads to a limitation in usual insulin action, whereas in the pancreas, excess fat prevents usual insulin secretion. Now that the cause of the disease can be clearly defined, leading researchers and medical scientists can begin work on treatments which can potentially reverse type two diabetes.

"This is an incredible discovery which is now being used to launch a new trial, one to locate an effective way to put type two diabetes into remission, long term."

Research has confirmed that type two diabetes can be reserved to the point that the diabetic doesn’t need medication. It has demonstrated that for a large sample of people who suffer from type two diabetes, major weight loss can revert their insulin secretion in the pancreas to a normal level. This is an incredible discovery which is now being used to launch a new trial, one to locate an effective way to put type two diabetes into remission, long term. And crucially, it proves that the disease isn’t necessarily progressive.

There are many variations on the common maths joke:

“Jack has 40 cakes. Susan takes 5. What is Jack left with? Diabetes.”

Obviously, the issue is vastly more complex than this. It neglects the fact that you have your own, personal fat threshold; this determines the level of fat in the liver and pancreas that you can tolerate. Simply, when this threshold is breached, type two diabetes can appear. Once levels go back down below this threshold, theoretically the type two diabetes will cease. Therefore, Jack may be able to reach a BMI of 38 before developing diabetes, so his inordinate cake-eating habits may actually be okay. On the other hand, Susan might only be able to tolerate a BMI of 22, so those five cakes may be taking their toll.

Overall, this research is very promising, and it’ll be exciting to follow the research team’s progress on this pressing medical issue.

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AUTHOR: Maud Webster
she/they | third year architecture & urban planning student @ newcastle | co-head of culture for the 21/21 academic year

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