By Charlotte Davison
A young investigator award was presented to postdoctoral researcher Tracy Mak, of the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (LMS), for her role in developing a new model to study diabetes.
Mak was one of six shortlisted for the award at the Diabetes UK conference this spring. Competitors submitted abstracts about their research and the best were chosen to present in front of a large audience. “It was a really great experience to be able to present at such a big conference,” says Mak, of the Cellular Identity and Metabolism group. She received a prize of £1000 for personal use, though is quick to credit the support of her group head, Mathieu Latreille. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Mathieu, he’s a great mentor.”
The Nick Hales Young Investigator Award is a competition open to researchers aged 35 or under. It aims to “improve understanding, prevention and treatment of diabetes”. The condition is the fastest-growing health threat facing our nation, says Diabetes UK. The charity claims that over 3 million people live with the condition in England alone.
People with diabetes have unusually high levels of glucose in their blood. Mak is exploring how this rise in glucose may be linked to a small molecule, called microRNA-7. This type of molecule plays a role in controlling the activity of genes, turning them “on” or “off”. To find out more about this particular molecule, Mak has developed a method to control the amount of microRNA-7 in the pancreas of mice. Using this model, she has shown that when mice have an unusually high level of microRNA-7 in certain cells of their pancreas, the level of glucose in their blood also rises and the mice enter a diabetic state. When Mak lowers the levels of microRNA-7, returning them to normal, this also lowers the level of blood glucose and the diabetic state is lost.
The molecule and blood glucose levels may be connected through the hormone insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. Insulin plays a key role in controlling the amount of glucose in our blood. In people with Type I Diabetes insulin in not produced, whilst in people with Type II Diabetes it is produced but the body the fails to respond to it.
In the future Mak plans to further improve the model to make it more closely represent the mechanisms by which diabetes occurs in people. This may help researchers to better understand the complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors that can lead to diabetes.
For more information contact:
Science Communications Officer
MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences