Research Tidbits: Leptin and GAD

I have been following a couple of recent research topics in the news related to Type 1 Diabetes. Here is a rundown:

I’ve read several stories in the last week or so about Leptin, a hormone that is produced by fat cells and that is involved in the regulation of body weight. Research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 2008 showed that rodents with Type 1 Diabetes were “restored to full health” after one injection of the leptin gene, even without any insulin.

A new study by the same research group shows that diabetic mice that were treated with injections of the hormone leptin thrived without insulin. In fact, many of the side effects of insulin use were also abated, including hard-to-avoid swings in blood glucose levels, and increases in bad cholesterol.

The secret of leptin seems to be its ability to suppress the larger-than-necessary amount of glucagon a Type 1 Diabetic creates in the liver. The result is profoundly reduced food intake, which reduces body fat. Also, by suppressing glucagon, leptin helps increase lean body mass.

The team at UT Southwestern is now setting up human tests. There is still a long way to go in the research process, and there are many caveats, including the fact that most Type 1 Diabetics produce normal leptin levels while the mice in the study were leptin-deficient. Nevertheless, the researchers believe that, at the very least, leptin could be useful in reducing the amount of insulin Type 1 Diabetics  require to regulate their blood glucose. This, in turn, could lead to lowered cholesterol levels, healthier weight, appetite suppression, and a reduction in blood glucose swings.


Another topic that caught my attention was GAD, or glutamic acid decarboxylase, an enzyme in the brain and pancreas that apparently serves several purposes in the body. You might be familiar with GAD because most Type 1 Diabetics are tested for GAD antibodies to verify that they in fact have type 1. In the Type 1 body, the immune system mistakenly identifies the insulin-producing beta cells as enemies and produces the GAD antibodies to attack them. Once the beta cells are destroyed, the body can no longer produce insulin.

Researchers are now looking into whether injections of GAD at the time of diagnosis, before the beta cells have been destroyed, could prevent the immune system response. Past research has shown that, at least in mice, when GAD is administered before the autoimmune attack and even shortly after it has started, the disease can be prevented. Apparently GAD activates a type of T cell that calms the immune cells that are destroying the beta cells.

GAD was discovered by UCLA in 1990, who licensed the technology to Diamyd Medical, a swedish diabetes company, in 1994. Diamyd is now conducting human trials of their Diamyd Diabetes Vaccine.


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