Monday, September 24, 2012

Iron plays a role in the cause of diabetes

Our lifestyle is becoming an important cause of a variety of diseases which have been steadily increasing in incidence over the last couple of decades. Examples include obesity, various forms of cancer and diabetes. The latter can be caused by an unhealthy diet, as well as other factors. Because diabetes leads to increased risk of various cardiovascular and renal diseases, much research is devoted to finding out the underlying causes of the disease, especially because of the increase in bad lifestyle choices seen in recent years. While we already know a fair bit about diabetes, scientists from the University of Copenhagen  have shown that transportation of iron in the body may be an underlying cause.

Our body uses iron for a variety of functions. Most well-known is perhaps its use in the haemoglobin molecule, which is responsible for oxygen transport in the blood. Iron itself needs to be transported as well, to get it to the site where it is required. There are various molecules that help with getting iron around the body, and one of those has been linked to diabetes, according to the Danish researchers.

In their experiments, the scientists removed the presence of this particular iron transporter in mice by genetically modifying them, so that the molecule is no longer produced. They were able to show that this protects against diabetes, presumably because iron cannot accumulate where it should not. It is thought that the iron transporter is over-active due to inflammatory signals caused by diabetes-inducing factors, such as a bad lifestyle (type II diabetes) or an underlying immunologic response (type I diabetes).

Because of its method of action, it seems that iron transporter activation can accelerate the damage associated with diabetes. The findings show that targeting this transporter may be beneficial for patients and could delay the onset of the harmful effects that diabetes causes, such as cardiovascular or renal disease. However, so far only an association between iron transporter inhibition and protection against diabetes has been shown in mice, which means a targeted therapy for humans is still many years away.

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