Zeroing in on diabetes

Target acquired. Using specialized mouse models and the latest technology, JAX scientists are working to curb one of the most common chronic diseases affecting people worldwide.

  • The CDC reports that 30.3 million Americans — 9.4 percent of the U.S. population — have diabetes. Worldwide, 422 million adults are living with the disease, according to the World Health Organization.
  • The human toll is staggering: people with diabetes are often encounter premature death, vision loss, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and amputation of toes, feet or legs.

JAX Research: Engineering a future without diabetes

Vitality, independence and fitness help us live life fully — at any age. JAX scientists are working to extend healthy life spans by manipulating genes that may block diabetes from developing at all.

The term “diabetes” actually covers two very different diseases, categorized as type 1 and type 2. But both types involve insufficient levels of the hormone insulin, which the body uses to transport glucose (a simple sugar that is the product of the breakdown of starches and more complex sugars in foods) into cells, where it serves as the primary energy source. Lack of insulin results in too much glucose in the blood, which has a long list of negative consequences, including stroke, heart disease and damage to organs.

Opening a therapeutic window for preventing type 1 diabetes

In type 1 diabetes, which is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, the body simply does not produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system destroys beta cells, the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

JAX Professor David Serreze, Ph.D. studies the complex genetics of the autoimmune process that leads to the destruction of beta cells, the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. His studies of how autoimmune responses first develop could provide a therapeutic window for preventing autoimmune diseases.

Unraveling the complex biology of type 2 diabetes

Patients with type 2 diabetes represent the vast majority (about 95 percent) of diabetes cases. They produce extra insulin to process their high blood glucose, but over time the pancreas can’t produce enough insulin to keep blood glucose at normal levels.

JAX Assistant Professor Michael Stitzel explores the development of human pancreatic islets, which produce insulin and other metabolic hormones. His lab investigates the conditions that alter the genetic programming of islets and lead to abnormal functions such as insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes, and is exploring the possibility of producing healthy pancreatic islet cells from pluripotent stem cells or even other kinds of fully developed cells.