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Beta cell dysfunction and type 2 diabetes

26th July 2022

The centrality of disrupted beta cell function to type 1 diabetes is widely understood. Less commonly appreciated is the vital part it plays in type 2 – a role that takes centre stage in Professor Hindrik Mulder’s new module.

In his module ‘Stimulus-secretion coupling in pancreatic beta cells’, the first in EASD e-Learning’s new course ‘Beta cell biology’, Professor Hindrik Mulder starts by addressing head on the significance of dysfunctional beta cells in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes.

“To develop type 2, it’s not sufficient to be insulin resistant. You can be as insulin resistant as you may and you will not develop diabetes – as long as your beta cells are strong and healthy enough to deliver the right amount of insulin, at the right time.”

What follows is a fascinating exploration of what we currently know about beta cell biology – focusing in particular on the complex intracellular triggering pathway by which healthy beta cells regulate blood glucose. Along the way, Hindrik examines the impact of recent innovations – including genome editing and stem cell research – which promise to revolutionise what is possible in beta cell biology research.

It’s a topic close to Hindrik’s heart. He has been actively researching in this field at Lund University, Sweden, for several years, developing metabolomics and imaging techniques to explore metabolic events in beta cells and islets. More recently he has elucidated how genetic variants associated with type 2 diabetes contribute to disease mechanisms.

Given the rarity of monogenic forms of type 2 diabetes and the multi-gene and multifactorial nature of the condition’s most frequent form, why should we pay attention to these genes? “I think it’s really important to understand how the disease develops,” Hindrik explains. “The more we learn, the better we understand it. But also, we can actually base treatment on understanding how these genes are implicated in the development of type 2 diabetes. It could be a pathway that we could perhaps affect by some drug. So it’s very helpful to the pharmaceutical industry that we have all this information about these genes that are involved in the development of the disease. These genes will help us to identify drug targets. And since diabetes is such a severe disease affecting so many people, it’s really important to find as many useful therapies as we possibly can.”

For more on this topic, including from Hindrik’s research colleagues at the Lund University Diabetes Centre, watch out for other modules in the Beta cell biology course, coming soon.

For more on the causes of type 2 diabetes, enrol on the following EASD e-Learning modules:

Any opinions expressed in this article are the responsibility of the EASD e-Learning Programme Director, Dr Eleanor D Kennedy.