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Investments in epigenetics to combat diabetes

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Charlotte Ling, professor of epigenetics at the Department of Clinical Sciences in Malmö, Lund University Diabetes Centre, Sweden, has been awarded the European Research Council’s Consolidator Grant. The funding of EUR 2 million over five years will be used to develop new methods to improve prediction, prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Charlotte Ling

Charlotte Ling is a pioneer within epigenetics and diabetes. Her research has had a major impact well beyond academia. In her previous research, Charlotte Ling proved that moderate doses of regular exercise modify activity in a third of all the body’s genes and have positive effects on the storage of fat. Her group also found changes in the activity of the genes linked to type 2 diabetes, which could explain how the genes affect the risk of disease.

Diabetes is partly a hereditary disease, but the heredity can only be explained up to about 20 percent. In epigenetics, researchers study not only our genes, but also what lies beyond (“epi” in Greek) them: the mechanisms which govern them and that we can affect to a large extent through our environment and lifestyle. Collectively, all the genes in a human being make up the genome, while the epigenome is made up of the genome together with all the factors that govern the genes’ activity.

Insulin producing cells in the pancreas are the most central to the disease process which leads to type 2 diabetes. Charlotte Ling is therefore going to study the epigenome in these cells to better understand the mechanisms which cause their dysfunction, leading to disease, and to compare epigenetic changes with genetic variation and other cellular processes such as the transcriptome, metabolome and the secretion of hormones from cells in the pancreas. In addition, the researchers will develop a mathematical platform to manage, analyse and visualise all the data generated by the analysis.

Diabetes, a disease increasing exponentially worldwide, leads to serious damages to the kidneys, eyes, and nerves, as well as to cardio-vascular complications. As a consequence, there is an urgent need for new strategies of diagnosing and treating the diseases.
“With new, innovative methods, we hope to discover new candidate genes of crucial significance for the development of type 2 diabetes. We also expect to find biological and molecular factors which contribute to the deterioration of insulin production”, says Charlotte Ling.
The hope is that this research will lead to new biomarkers which can be measured in the blood to predict diabetes, and to novel therapies for treatment of the disease.
“Earlier detection and better treatments can prevent the increase of type 2 diabetes and its complications”, says Charlotte Ling.

Sara Liedholm

Last updated: December 14, 2016
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