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SNARE Proteins Could Hold Secret to Treating Type 2 Diabetes

Jul 26, 2013

Scientists believe the proteins that are targeted by cosmetic surgery treatment could hold the secret to treating and even curing type 2 diabetes….

A team of researchers at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK, is using new molecular microscopic techniques on SNARE proteins to solve the mystery of how insulin release is regulated and how this changes during type 2 diabetes.

SNARE proteins are targeted by Botox treatments, preventing them from helping muscles contract. However, their role goes well beyond the cosmetic realm, such as their work in the human pancreas.

Dr. Colin Rickman and his team are observing SNARE proteins in pancreatic beta-cells, the highly specialised cells that release insulin. Within the cells are SNARE proteins, which are the machinery that helps the beta-cells release the insulin to try and stabilise blood glucose levels.

The Heriot-Watt team hopes to observe SNARE proteins in the cell for the first time, pinpointing their exact location in an area equivalent to a ten-thousandth of a human hair.

Dr. Rickman said, "The human body has a system for storing glucose and releasing it when the body needs energy. This system controlled by the release of insulin. When a person is obese, which a worryingly high and increasing number of people in the UK are, this system is put under pressure and eventually fails. This leads to type 2 diabetes. We know SNARE proteins are responsible for insulin secretion, but it’s still not understood exactly how they do it."

"Once we can understand how these proteins behave in ‘normal’ circumstances, how they move, how they are arranged in the cell, how they interact with other proteins, we can then compare it with what happens under type 2 diabetic conditions. This is the first time these proteins have ever been observed in such detail. Ultimately this could lead to new methods of diagnosis, prevention of the cells’ failure that leads to diabetes and also treatments for type 2 diabetes."

Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh