Scientists at an American university have been awarded a $1.8 million grant to study the biological mechanisms behind the development of type 2 diabetes.
Feng Ding and Weiguo Cao work at Clemson University, South Carolina, and are using computer modelling techniques to investigate higher-quality treatments for type 2 diabetes.
The National Institutes of Health’s grant will help the researchers explore how a peptide protein co-secreted with insulin in the pancreas might be linked to beta cell death and insulin resistance.
“We use computer modelling to understand the molecular mechanisms in the pancreas where insulin is produced and then we make predictions based off the models,” said Ding.
“After that, we employ biophysical and biochemical methods to validate our predictions. Finally, we will be able to design therapeutic approaches based on what we’ve learned. This combined computational and experimental approach can improve research efficiency and significantly shorten the discovery cycle.”
The peptide hormone being investigated is called islet amyloid polypeptide (IAPP), which helps to control blood glucose levels and satiety. In people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, it is believed that IAPP aggregates and interferes with biological processes, causing beta cells to eventually die.
Ding and Cao will use their computer simulations to study how healthy individuals prevent this aggregatio, and how naturally occurring plant-based molecules known to regulate biological processes can inhibit IAPP aggregation.
“How do healthy individuals – many of whom are overweight – naturally prevent these proteins from aggregating? From this, we can learn the mechanisms. Then we can design therapeutics to mimic or promote these mechanisms,” Ding said.
“The second topic is to look at how the small molecules, the naturally occurring polyphenols, help prevent aggregation. From this, we can design better inhibitors. The third topic is engineering nano-sized objects that can be used as drug carriers and also increase the efficacy of the drug.”
People with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, which the researchers believe could be caused by similar types of protein aggregation.
Therefore, they hope their findings could lead to treatments that could treat both of these conditions, and potentially other conditions that are caused in the same way.

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