WU researchers discover more about fighting diabetes

| Contributing Reporter

A recent discovery that may revolutionize the treatment of Type 2 diabetes is the result of just one of numerous Washington University efforts to fight the rising disease.

Last month, a study conducted by researchers at the University’s School of Medicine found that a compound called nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) eradicated Type 2 diabetes in female mice within seven to 10 days.

The University has a history of researching Type 2 diabetes. The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Diabetes Centers Program has funded the University’s Diabetes Research and Training Center for 34 years and recently awarded it $3 million to expand to a second center.

Dr. Shin-Ichiro Imai, associate professor of developmental biology, who led the research group that discovered the value of NMN, said the discovery was made somewhat by accident.

His team is affiliated with the existing Diabetes Research and Training Center (DRTC).

Imai initially set out to study the role of the SIRT1 protein in the regulation of metabolism in mammals.

“The study into the role and function of SIRT1 in multiple tissues…has become one of our biggest projects in recent years. Since SIRT1 is activated by [nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD)] molecules, we came up with the idea of enhancing SIRT1 by boosting NAD biosynthesis,” Dr. Imai said. “What we found was that deficiencies in NAD biosynthesis may lead to Type 2 diabetes.”

Imai’s group, formed in 2001, discovered NMN as a by-product of biosynthesis in 2004. They found that a catalyst of the reaction works with the SIRT1 protein to regulate key biological functions and the propagation of Type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Imai is currently conducting long-term NMN experiments with mice and collaborating with pharmaceutical companies to develop a suitable grade of NMN for future human trials.

“[The illness] is obviously on the rise since we are living in an aging society; it’s getting more obvious that we need to develop effective preventions,” Dr. Imai said. “What we need in the near future is a pill people can take to prevent this illness, like taking vitamin tablets.”

The University’s unaffiliated Diabetes Research and Training Center is working toward a similar objective.

Members of the center have been pushing for two years to receive funding for a second center to focus solely on releasing the first center’s findings to the public.

The $3 million grant from the NIH is allowing the center to accomplish this goal.

Washington University is one of seven institutions, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Chicago and Vanderbilt University, to receive the grant.

Most of the University’s new center’s infrastructure is already in place, and organizers are currently focusing on hiring individuals to help run the center, said Debra Haire-Joshu, director of the Center for Diabetes Translation Research.

“There is a lot of organizational work going on right now. We would like to focus on diabetes translation, prevention and control—including obesity and other diabetes-related disparities—to the community,” she said.

Dr. Haire-Joshu said she hopes for the center to address both the causes of the rising disease as well as the recently discovered solutions.

“We have essentially created a pro-diabetes environment,” she said. “Though we do have evidence-based practices to prevent diabetes, this information is not reaching the public. Hopefully, the new center can help improve the situation.”