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Proteins Targeted by Botox Could Hold Cure for Diabetes, Scientists Say

Pancreatic SNARE proteins are the key (July 25)

Researchers in the U.K. believe the proteins that are targeted by the cosmetic surgery treatment Botox (onabotulinumtoxinA) could hold the secret to treating and even curing type 2 diabetes.

A team of scientists at Heriot–Watt University is using new molecular microscopic techniques on soluble N-ethylmaleimide–sensitive factor activating protein receptor (SNARE) proteins to solve the mystery of how insulin release is regulated and how this regulation changes during type 2 diabetes.

SNARE proteins are targeted by Botox treatments, preventing them from helping muscles contract. However, the role of these proteins goes well beyond the cosmetic realm, such as their work in the human pancreas. The researchers are observing SNARE proteins in pancreatic beta-cells, the highly specialized cells that release insulin. Within these cells are SNARE proteins, which are the machinery that helps beta-cells release the insulin to try and stabilize blood glucose levels.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when beta-cells can’t cope with the prolonged high glucose levels of some obese patients and so secrete less insulin. The beta-cells lose both mass and function, but the reasons for this have always been unclear.

The U.K. team hopes to answer these questions by observing SNARE proteins in the cell for the first time, pinpointing their exact location in an area equivalent to one ten-thousandth of a human hair.

Lead investigator Dr. Colin Rickman said: “We know SNARE proteins are responsible for insulin secretion, but it’s still not understood exactly how they do it.

“Once we can understand how these proteins behave in ‘normal’ circumstances, how they move, how they are arranged in the cell, how they interact with other proteins, we can then compare it with what happens under type 2 diabetic conditions. This is the first time these proteins have ever been observed in such detail.

“Ultimately this could lead to new methods of diagnosis, prevention of the cells’ failure that leads to diabetes, and also treatments for type 2 diabetes.”

Source: Heriot-Watt University; July 25, 2013.

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