November is American Diabetes Month

As we enter a time of year abundant with food-centric holidays and gatherings, it can be helpful to pause for a moment to think about how we eat – and how much. We all know that overeating and consuming unhealthy foods often leads to obesity, which often leads to diabetes – frequently as part of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions comprised of four interrelated illnesses: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. But despite this awareness, diabetes rates keep soaring worldwide. In the U.S. alone, reports the American Diabetes Association, more than 29 million of us have the disease – that’s 1 in 11 people. Even more alarming is that 86 million Americans have prediabetes, meaning that 1 in 3 are on the verge of becoming diabetic.

Obvious causes aside, the totality of factors leading to diabetes is quite complex. That’s why the Weizmann Institute of Science approaches the disease from many angles, analyzing genetics, risk factors, nutrition, the gut microbiome, circadian rhythms, molecular signaling, stem cells, and immunology.

November is American Diabetes Month – and in recognition, we’d like to share some of the Weizmann Institute’s research on this often-misunderstood, all-too-common disease.

  • Dr. Gad Asher studies our internal “body clocks” – present in every single cell, these clocks operate on an approximately 24-hour circadian cycle. Disruption to this timing system can cause imbalances that lead to such diseases as obesity, metabolic syndrome, and fatty liver. Fortunately, his research suggests that novel drugs could be developed to repair the clocks, aiding conditions from chronic sleep disturbances and jet lag to metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

  • Dr. Eran Hornstein and his team investigate the role of microRNAs in pancreatic beta cells (the cells that produce insulin). Their findings not only shed new light on the way that insulin production is controlled; they may aid in the future diagnosis and treatment of diabetes. In particular, since microRNAs are amenable to genetic manipulation, it is hoped that this research will pave the way to novel cell-based therapies for type 1 diabetes.

  • Prof. Menachem Rubinstein is researching the mechanism by which obesity triggers type 2 diabetes, with a focus on metabolism in fat cells. He has found that obese individuals suffer the breakdown of a specific protein, which reduces the ability of fat cells to absorb glucose from the blood. His findings will enable better use of currently available drugs for treating type 2 diabetes.

  • Prof. Alon Chen and his team recently showed that changing the action of a single gene in the brain caused mice to develop symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes—including dramatic changes in the metabolism of fats and sugars. In addition, the group has gained significant new insights into the brain mechanisms responsible for weight regulation and obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stress recovery, post-traumatic stress, and more.

  • And in the exciting new Personalized Nutrition Project, Prof. Eran Segal and Dr. Eran Elinav investigate how the bacteria living in our gut influence our diet and overall health. Among their recent breakthroughs: revealing that changes in the composition and function of the gut microbiota are connected with obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic disorders. They also produced the headline-making discovery that artificial sweeteners, long promoted as aids to weight loss and diabetes prevention, could actually hasten the development of glucose intolerance and metabolic disease.

Novel equipment, detailed genetic data, and super-powerful imaging techniques are enabling revolutionary advances in metabolic disorder research – and Weizmann Institute scientists are part of the revolution. Won’t you help them lead the way? Let’s make diabetes a disease of the past!