The Molecular Mechanisms Behind Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes affects 3 million Canadians and 300 million people worldwide and is on the increase. If inadequately treated, diabetes can lead to complications such as blindness, amputation, kidney failure, heart attack and stroke. It also can significantly increase the risk of cancer.
People with diabetes are resistant to insulin, which is the key regulator of fuel metabolism. Insulin balances blood glucose and regulates protein and fat metabolism. Faced with insulin resistance, the body tries to compensate by instructing its beta cells—cells in the pancreas that make insulin—to increase production. However, the functioning of these beta cells eventually declines, and the body can no longer make enough insulin to compensate for the resistance.
While there is a great deal of understanding of what happens to people with diabetes, the precise molecular mechanisms that underlie the disease are still not known.
Dr. Minna Woo, Canada Research Chair in Signal Transduction in Diabetes Pathogenesis, is aiming to change this situation. Woo is looking at how tissues like liver, fat or brain tissue contribute to insulin resistance, and is discovering ways to promote increased insulin production. She is also examining the molecular processes that link abnormalities in these tissues to diabetes complications, such as cardiovascular disease or cancer.
Woo’s work could help lead to new strategies to prevent and treat the growing diabetes epidemic.