Researchers from the United Kingdom and the Michigan Comprehensive Diabetes Center have identified the brain cells wired to detect glucose levels — a discovery which could improve how patients and doctors manage diabetes.
Martin Myers, a researcher at the Comprehensive Diabetes Center and an associate professor of Internal Medicine and molecular and integrative physiology, said people with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin and must keep their blood sugar as close to normal as possible. People with diabetes, particularly type 1, have to constantly manage their blood sugar levels. But when participating in intensive insulin therapy, people run a high risk of receiving too much insulin — a problem that can result in decreased blood sugar levels.
After three years of research, the scientists recently found a brain pathway that produces cholecystokinin, or CCK, a brain hormone that can detect blood glucose levels.
Myers said researchers are now studying neurons in the same brain pathway that could unlock new methods for addressing hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
“We’re looking at the neurons that live downstream of these (CCK) because our thought is that those neurons are the ones that collect the signals from the system that we just studied, but then also from a whole bunch of systems,” Myers said. “Those are the ones that I think if we can figure out what’s in them, we can probably figure out a way to target some kind of therapeutic agent for hypoglycemia.”
LSA junior Krysta Walter, president of Students for Diabetes Awareness, said type 1 diabetes affects her life every day. To be prepared, for unexpected drops in blood glucose levels she said she must always carry her meter, glucose tablets or a juice box.
Engineering senior Brianna Wolin was diagnosed with diabetes when she was four years old and said monitoring her insulin a critical part of her daily life.
“You could literally go into one day and eat exactly the same thing at the same time for every meal that you did the day before and have a completely different outcome,” Wolin said. “It’s sort of the understanding that you always have to be on your toes, because if you were to relax for about more than five minutes, you could get yourself into a problem. You have to be hyper vigilant and aware because in five minutes, your entire existence could completely change.”
Scientists say this recent discovery could help people like Walter and Wolin who suffer from hypoglycemia and hope the research will continue to produce results.