Islet cells and the genetic, environmental risk factors of type 2 diabetes

March 2, 2021

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has made a four-year grant totaling $1,397,068 to Jackson Laboratory (JAX) in Bar Harbor, ME, to study the genetic regulation of islet responses and to determine how genetic variants alter these responses to contribute to islet dysfunction and type 2 diabetes, according to a news release.

Islets process the glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream. When cells stop responding normally to insulin — a condition called insulin resistance — the islets turn up insulin production. If even this higher quantity of insulin doesn’t overcome insulin resistance, your blood sugar rises, leading to dangerously high levels of glucose in the blood and, ultimately, type 2 diabetes.

“Type 2 diabetes is fundamentally a genetic disease,” says Jackson Laboratory (JAX) Associate Professor Michael Stitzel, PhD, “in which individuals have higher or lower baseline risk of developing type 2 diabetes due to their genetic makeup. Precise understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying genetic and environmental contributions to islet failure is essential to develop new, targeted approaches to prevent and treat type 2 diabetes.”

Stitzel is zeroing in on genetic mechanisms that could explain why some people are more susceptible to type 2 diabetes than others. He studies how genetic variations in the human population affect the resilience and stress responses of islets, clusters of cells in the pancreas that include the insulin-producing beta cells.

Specifically, the Stitzel lab is focusing on genetic control of endoplasmic reticulum and lipotoxic stress responses, which are key physiological processes that contribute to islet dysfunction and failure.

Stitzel says that the study “will reveal novel therapeutic targets, and guide strategies for subsequent studies manipulating these responses to prevent or treat islet failure and type 2 diabetes.”

Visit Jackson Laboratory for more news