Grants help further diabetes research

By By Natalie Hale

By Natalie Hale

Ongoing research at the U conducted with mice could potentially help thousands of patients suffering from diabetes.

Three grants, totaling $2.7 million, were recently given to a U research lab with a primary objective to understand why diabetics have heart-related health issues.

“(A person) suffering from diabetes (is) more susceptible to heart attacks, strokes and heart failure than a person without the disease,” said Dale Abel, associate professor of internal medicine at the U, investigator with the U’s program in human molecular biology and genetics and investigator of the grants.

“These are a major cause of death among people suffering from diabetes,” he said.

The three grants, two from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and one from the National Institutes of Health, will help further Abel’s research.

The first grant from the JDRF is for $200,000 for two years. It is primarily concerned with the research conducted by collaborator Dean Li, associate professor of human molecular biology and genetics. The assistant professor of cardiology and internal medicine at the U School of Medicine discovered a protein called Netrin-1, which is associated with blood vessel and nerve tissue growth in embryos.

The loss of blood flow in diabetic people causes nerves and blood vessels to fall apart, Able said. This leads to serious complications in the limbs and eventually amputation.

Li found when this protein, Netrin-1, was injected into a damaged limb of a diabetic animal, the limb showed improved blood vessel and nerve growth, saving the limb.

The grant from the JDRF will focus on a trial with the protein in genetically diverse mice that are infected with Type-1 diabetes, studying nerve and blood vessel regrowth. The U will be partnering with University of Michigan researchers for this study.

The second grant from the JDRF, also a two-year grant for $200,000, will focus on Abel’s lab work on diabetes’ effect on mitochondria, small organelles found within cells that produce energy known as ATP.

“We have found that there is a deficit in energy production in the heart, which might cause contraction dysfunction in diabetics,” said Heiko Bugger, a post-doctorate student in Abel’s lab.

The U will be partnering with Utah State University to study how diabetes affects the mitochondria in the heart.

Patients suffering from diabetes have problems with insulin, which is important in maintaining the health of the mitochondria, Abel said.

This study will focus on the protein composition of mitochondria in the hearts of diabetic mice.

The third grant, given to the U lab by the National Institutes of Health for $1.87 million over five years, combines both studies.

The purpose of this study is to generate mouse models of cardiovascular complications found in diabetic patients, Abel said.

When the mouse model is completed, it will be made readily available for others to examine and replicate.

Able, who is an endocrinologist at the U, gets to see both sides of the story through his clinical work and research.

As an associate professor at the U medical school, he cares for patients at the Utah Diabetes Center and runs the teaching clinic.

“In 10 years or so, there will be newer and better ways to treat this disease. We hope our research will help,” Abel said.

Kim Peterson

Dr. E. Dale Abel