University of Leeds: Rogue proteins targeted by new technology

Scientists plan to develop technology to isolate and extract fragments of a “rogue” protein linked to diabetes.

Called microbiopsy, the approach will enable researchers to remove clumps of a protein called human islet amyloid polypeptide – or hIAPP – from donated pancreatic tissue.

The research involves a collaboration with the University of Newcastle and is funded by the Medical Research Council with the aim of understanding how changes to the structure of hIAPP could be a factor in the development of type-2 diabetes.

Challenge of type-2 diabetes
Diabetes is a major health challenge and the costs of supporting and treating patients consumes around 10% of NHS England’s budget, with the number of people who will develop the illness is expected to grow. Nine out of ten people with diabetes are type-2 diabetics.

One of the questions researchers are trying to answer is the possible role that hIAPP plays in the development of the disease.

hIAPP is secreted by the body alongside insulin to help regulate blood sugar levels. Scientists have found that in most people with type-2 diabetes, the protein has misfolded to form aggregates or clumps in the pancreas.

But why that happens and whether it causes type 2 diabetes remains a mystery.

‘New techniques will have wider use’
The research is being led by Professor Neil Ranson, Director of the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology, alongside Professor Frank Sobott, from the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Dr Paolo Actis from the University’s Bragg Centre for Materials Research, and Professor James Shaw from the University of Newcastle.

Professor Ranson said: “It is important that we do this research because it will generate new discoveries about the molecular events that happen in human tissue during disease.

“It will also enable us to develop new ways of diagnosing and understanding diabetes – and by fostering a research collaboration that involves doctors, scientists and engineers we are hope to identify new ways of treating diabetes.

“And these techniques may play a vital role in studying all kinds of other diseases that revolve around the aggregation of proteins. These include some of the scourges of our age, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.”

The research funding to Leeds is part of a £7 million investment over three years from the Medical Research Council to seven separate research projects in UK universities.

Professor John Iredale, Medical Research Council (MRC) Executive Chair said: “The MRC is dedicated to funding research which addresses some of the biggest problems in health. These projects provide an opportunity for novel research that pushes the boundaries of current understanding of human disease.”

Earlier this year, researchers in the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology announced they had identified two molecules that could control the rate at which hIAPP misfolded.