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Understanding hypoglycaemia

16 July 2012

 JDRF-funded researchers at the University of Dundee have developed a new way to study how the brain responds to hypoglycaemia in the lab.

The research team, who published their results in the journal Diabetologia this week, have found that they can grow cells in the lab that act just like glucose sensing cells in the brain. These cells contain the same genes as glucose sensing cells and can respond to changes in glucose levels. 

The researchers now plan to use these cells to learn more about how the brain detects and responds to hypoglycaemia and how this response can change in people with type 1. It may even be possible to use the cells to test out new drugs that may help detect hypoglycaemia.

In fact, the team have already identified a molecule called ‘AMPKα2’ which alters the cells ability to respond to changes in glucose levels.

Hypoglycaemia is one of the most common and potentially severe side effects of insulin therapy that occurs when blood glucose levels drop too low and cells do not have enough energy to work properly. Usually, the brain senses hypoglycaemia early and responds by releasing glucose stored in the liver.

Some people with type 1 can gradually lose this ability to detect and respond to hypoglycaemia and no longer experience the usual physical warning symptoms. This means people may be unable to take preventative action themselves, risking multiple severe hypos.

Dr Craig Beall, who conducted the study said, ‘The ultimate aim and focus of the team at the University of Dundee is to develop a therapy that will prevent hypoglycaemia and reverse diminished hypoglycaemia awareness in type 1 diabetes. The validation of this model will go some way in accelerating findings into this complication’.

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