Breakthrough in diabetes research

It seems we all know somebody with diabetes. That shouldn’t be surprising, since nearly 9 percent of Americans have diabetes. There are two major types: Type 1, which used to be called juvenile diabetes, often occurs before age 20. Then there’s Type 2 diabetes. Ten to 15 percent of all people with diabetes have Type 1, but the majority by far have Type 2 diabetes.

Both types involve insulin issues. In Type 1, the body attacks the pancreas, which produces insulin. That’s why Type 1 diabetics always need insulin, either through a pump or daily injections. With Type 2 diabetes, a complicated condition called “insulin resistance” develops. There’s actually plenty of insulin but the body doesn’t use it well. Type 2 diabetes often isn’t diagnosed until later in life and is greatly associated with diet, lifestyle and heredity. The obesity epidemic is producing more and more people with Type 2 diabetes. 

A protein called TXNIP, short for thioredoxin-interacting protein, is involved in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Scientists have known for at least a decade that TXNIP is activated by sugars and kills the beta cells that produce insulin. The new research shows that TXNIP also can tell beta cells to make less insulin.

Scientists have also learned step-by-step how TXNIP does its dirty work. The hope is that by disrupting those steps and “turning off” the protein, scientists may one day be able to cure both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. We are a long way from there, but understanding how this protein works may provide the answer for how to stop it.

–Jackie Hays