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Centenary Institute - Medical Research
Centenary Institute - Medical Research

Enzyme insight could lead to new diabetes treatment

Research led by the Centenary Institute has discovered that the lack of an enzyme in the liver called sphingosine kinase 2 (SphK2) results in pronounced insulin resistance and glucose intolerance, both symptoms of early stage type 2 diabetes.

The findings raises the possibility of a new treatment approach for diabetic patients whose glucose blood levels are dangerously high.

In the study, reported in the science journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), the researchers were able to demonstrate that the enzyme SphK2 was crucial to the blood glucose regulation process.

“Using mouse models, we found that a lack of SphK2 in the liver causes an accumulation of a fat product, sphingosine that, in turn, impairs insulin function in the liver,” said senior author of the study, Dr Yanfei (Jacob) Qi, Head of the Lipid Cell Biology Laboratory at the Centenary Institute.

It is insulin that signals to fat, liver and muscle cells to take-up glucose from the blood. Insulin resistance is when the cells do not respond to the insulin properly and fail to lower glucose levels adequately, potentially resulting in the development of Type 2 diabetes.

“Our study has been able to demonstrate that the enzyme SphK2 is a key player in the regulation of insulin. Future research can now look at targeting both SphK2 and sphingosine, by either genetic or pharmacological means. If we can help normalise their levels in the body we can then aid the management of both insulin resistance and diabetes,” said Dr Qi.

It is estimated that approximately 1.8 million Australians suffer from some form of diabetes  with the disease associated with a reduced life span, blindness, amputation, increased risk of heart disease as well as a poorer quality of life.

“Our findings are important as they may provide us with a completely new way to treat diabetes and to help change lives for the better,” said Dr Qi.

Publication: Regulation of hepatic insulin signaling and glucose homeostasis by sphingosine kinase 2.

Cardiovascular research excellence recognised

Four scientists from the Centenary Institute have had their world-leading research recognised by being awarded prestigious NSW Cardiovascular Research Capacity Building Grants. The grants will help drive the scientists work focused on improving the health of patients with heart and cardiovascular conditions.

“Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death and disability in Australia. We need to continue to accelerate our research efforts in this critical health area to develop new and innovative treatments and to improve the heart health of all Australians,” says Professor Mathew Vadas AO, Executive Director at the Centenary Institute.

“Accordingly, these grants are an excellent outcome, both for our scientists who are operating at the very forefront of their research fields, as well as for the wider community who will ultimately benefit from the life-changing medical research being undertaken,” he says.

Successful Centenary Institute scientists and their research are (pictured top left to right):

Professor Philip Hogg. Centenary Institute (ACRF Centenary Cancer Research Centre) and University of Sydney. Awarded a Cardiovascular Senior Researcher Grant. Redefining protein function in thrombosis: Implications for pro-thrombotic states and anti-thrombotic drug resistance in patients with cardiovascular disease.

Dr Paul Coleman. Centenary Institute (Vascular Biology Program), Heart Research Institute and University of Sydney. Awarded a Cardiovascular Early-Mid Career Researcher Grant. Redox control of VWF processing and activity during thrombotic diseases.

Dr Renjing Liu. Centenary Institute (Vascular Biology Program) and University of Sydney. Awarded a Cardiovascular Early-Mid Career Researcher Grant. Targeting Tet2 as a therapy for vascular calcification.

Dr Yanfei (Jacob) Qi. Centenary Institute (Vascular Biology Program) and University of Sydney. Awarded a Cardiovascular Early-Mid Career Researcher Grant. Targeting blood vessel cells to treat atherosclerosis.

The NSW Cardiovascular Disease Research Capacity Building Program and its grants are a NSW Government initiative aiming to drive discoveries that allow researchers to find ways to better diagnose, treat and prevent cardiovascular disease, improving the health and wellbeing of people living in NSW.

Read the full media release here.