Our Strategy to Prevent and Cure Type 2 Diabetes (T2D)

More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, and another 84 million US adults have prediabetes, a serious health condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.  A person with prediabetes is at high risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.  Type 2 diabetes may also lead to kidney failure, vision loss, and there are approximately 75,000 diabetes related amputations each year in the United States.  In the last 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than tripled as the US population has aged and become more overweight.  The cost of diabetes to our nation is hundreds of billions of dollars annually. 

  

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes means the body doesn't use insulin properly.  At first, the pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. However, over time it isn't able to keep up and can't make enough insulin to keep blood sugar at normal levels.  

Scientific hurdles when researching a cure for T2D

  • Rodents do not replicate human T2D in the lab
  • Detailed studies of humans are very difficult or impossible 
  • Activating “beige” fat cells in humans may alleviate diabetes, but they are very difficult to isolate and study in humans
  • T2D is a multi-organ disease affecting both insulin secretion by beta cells in the pancreas, and insulin signaling to its “target tissues” of liver, muscle and body fat. This makes it extremely difficult to determine the cause of the disease.

The Unique UMass Approach: Our scientists have...

Discovered the benefits of beige fat

In 2017, UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence researchers proved that rare “beige” cells, known to attack fat in our body, could be obtained from humans.  Millions of these beneficial cells are now being produced in our labs, from a single individual.

Produced beige cells in the lab for potential therapy and clinical trials

We are working within FDA guidelines for removing beige cells from a person with type 2 diabetes, growing them in the lab, then implanting them back into that person to improve their sugar metabolism.  This has been successful in studies with our unique UMass “humanized” mice. 

Developed new techniques for silencing and editing genes

Our UMass Institute for RNA Therapeutics includes a Nobel Laureate as one of its leaders. World leaders in RNA and gene therapy research, we have developed new techniques for silencing and editing genes.  Our scientists can enhance sugar metabolism in beige cells and other tissues affected by diabetes, such as the liver.

Created new procedures for analyzing genes in single cells of tissues affected by diabetes for potential treatment

Our scientists can now target specific genes that are not functioning properly, and potentially alter them for diabetes management, including the pancreas, liver, and adipose tissues.  

Investigated what causes proliferation in beta cells

Beta cells in rodents can rapidly reproduce and multiply, however human beta cells do not.  We are working to create more insulin producing beta cells in people with both type 1 & type 2 diabetes.  Beta cell regeneration in a person with diabetes could help to prevent or treat the disease.