New discovery of an age-related diabetes mechanism

Damage to the pancreas plays a central role in age-related diabetes. Research by Dr Yuyan Xiong and Prof. Zhihong Yang now explains the mechanism by which this damage occurs and so paves the way for new therapeutic approaches.

Type 2 diabetes often affects older people. An important factor in this is damage to the so-called beta cells in the pancreas. Because of the damage, these cells are no longer able to produce insulin – a hormone which counteracts high blood sugar levels (hyperglycaemia). The mechanism by which the beta cells are damaged was up till now only imperfectly understood.

Dr Yuyan Xiong and colleagues in the research team of Prof. Zhihong Yang in the Department of Medicine at the University of Fribourg have now proven that in older people the pancreas often produces an excess of the arginase II enzyme, which leads to a surplus of inflammatory molecules – in particular TNF-alpha. TNF-alpha destroys the insulin-producing beta cells. The resulting lack of insulin then leads to high blood sugar levels and diabetic complications.

The research results of Prof. Yang’s team explain how the pancreas damages itself. Furthermore, their discovery of the role of the arginase II enzymes provides a new therapeutic approach to the treatment of age-related diabetes.