Scientists say they have discovered two molecules that function like a “switch” to regulate the liver’s production of blood sugar, potentially opening the door to a new way to treat type 2 diabetes.
Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies said manipulating these two molecules, which work together to allow more or less glucose production, may one day allow diabetics to lower their blood sugar to treat insulin-resistant type 2 diabetes.
The study, reported in the journal Nature, involved diabetic mice, but the same processes are believed to occur in humans.
"If you control these switches, you can control the production of glucose, which is really at the heart of the problem of type 2 diabetes," said lead researcher Marc Montminy, head of Salk's Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology.
Nearly 26 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, and another 79 million people are at risk of developing the condition. Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and treatment costs are estimated at $116 billion annually.
Montminy's lab has studied the switches that control glucose production in the liver and others that control glucose sensing and insulin production in the pancreas. Among his key findings is that fasting turns on a genetic switch -- known as CRTC2 – that boosts glucose in the blood. But in diabetics that switch is over active, producing too much glucose, which can cause organ damage and heart disease.
The new study identifies the molecular factors that activate the CRTC2 switch, but also discovered processes that can shut it down.
The research was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.