September 25, 2012

Too much iron to blame in the development of Diabetes


Relax. This isn’t about golf. It is about iron transport, though. A new study identifies a  particular iron-transport protein that destroys insulin-producing beta cells, leading to diabetes. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Copenhagen and Novo Nordisk A/S. The study was conducted in mice. The mice without this iron transporter are protected against developing diabetes.

A lead investigator explains the significance of this study. “An increase in the iron content of the cells may cause tissue damage and disease. We find that increased activity of a certain iron transporter causes damage to the beta cell. And if we completely remove this iron transporter in the beta cells in genetically engineered mice, they are indeed protected against diabetes.”

Inflammation has been a guilty party for many years in the development of diabetes. A condition called hemochromatosis, where the body absorbs and accumulates unusually high amounts of iron, are at a greater risk of developing diabetes. However, for the first time scientists are able to connect inflammation and iron transport, leading to the underlying cause of the increased risk of diabetes.

To recap, there are three new findings of significance in this study. One: It is the first study to show a link between inflammation and the transport of iron, which the investigators believe to be the underlying cause of a higher risk of diabetes. Two: Inflammatory signal factors produced around the beta cells in people who have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes speed up the activity of the iron transporter. Three: Removal of the iron transporter in genetically modified mice resulted in the animals being protected against diabetes

At this point I’m unclear which direction Novo Nordisk is willing to take these results. Genetically engineering a world like Gattaca is not their business. Although I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if Novo Nordisk is working on a drug to target this specific iron-transport protein. After all, they are passionate about proteins.

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