By: Eric Sauter, Scripps Florida.
Diabetes poses ones of the greatest threats to our nation’s health and well-being, far greater than almost any other disease.
As Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) put it: “The number of Americans diagnosed with type 2 diabetes rose from 1.5 million in 1958 to 18.8 million in 2010. That’s an increase of epidemic proportions. Even more disturbing, another seven million Americans have type 2 diabetes but don’t know it and, consequently, can’t take steps to control the disease. Altogether, over eight percent of the U.S. population now has this potentially deadly metabolic condition.”
Diabetes is a family of diseases in which people have too much sugar (glucose) in their blood or cannot use that sugar properly—or both. Type 2 diabetes, the most common kind, when combined with obesity can quickly lead to a range of detrimental conditions including coronary heart disease, stroke, hypercholesterolemia, fatty liver, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, and even certain cancers.
Scientists on the Jupiter campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) are engaged in the battle against this growing threat every day, seeking to unravel the mysteries of a disease that kills or helps kill nearly a quarter of a million Americans each year.
Our scientists are focused on uncovering the underlying causes of diabetes and much more—how aging affects our metabolic rate, how junk food can become an addiction, how current therapies work in our body— information critical to the development of safer and more effective therapies.
While type 2 diabetes (which accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all diabetes cases) can be managed in part with lifestyle changes, including increased physical activity and a diet with limited amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates, diet and exercise are often insufficient – and many people take medication, insulin or both to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Unfortunately, medical options include only a small number of prescription drugs—which don’t work for everyone and are often associated with unpleasant or toxic side effects. These patients are often desperate for additional help.
Scripps Florida scientists are fighting diabetes on a number of fronts. For example, one of our scientists has discovered a particular enzyme that plays a significant role in promoting the action of insulin on energy/fat storage. Mice lacking this enzyme not only stay lean on a regular diet, but are also protected against high-fat-diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance.
Another one of our scientists was recently awarded more than $2 million from the NIH to study the therapeutic potential of safer and more effective alternatives to the current crop of anti-diabetic drugs, which have been limited in their use due to side effects including bone loss and congestive heart failure, while another is looking for new ways to replace a class of anti-diabetes drugs that have proven so problematic that their sales have been severely restricted by the Food and Drug Administration.
Over the past decade, these Scripps Florida scientists have focused on the molecular details of the mode of action of insulin sensitizers – compounds that raise the body’s sensitivity to insulin, increasing the amount of glucose or sugar absorbed by the cells. With this new information, our scientists have made major advances in developing drug candidates that target a novel receptor with a unique mode of action that is far safer compared to these restricted treatments.
Another laboratory has found that the interaction between a disparate pair of brain proteins may have a profound effect on the regulation of appetite, and could find widespread application beyond diabetes, touching on other complex conditions that include neuropsychiatric disorders such as Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, and addiction.
Other Scripps Florida scientists are creating the first comprehensive roadmap of the protein interactions that enable cells in the pancreas to produce, store and secrete insulin, while another laboratory is working on the development of an anti-obesity vaccine that could significantly slow weight gain and reduce body fat, while still others are studying a catalytic antibody that degrades a known appetite stimulant, a potential treatment for obesity
Our cutting edge research points to a growing opportunity – to apply what we learn in the Scripps Florida laboratories to practical applications that can make a difference in the lives of patients.