Using an innovative new method, OMRF scientist Rheal Towner, Ph.D., can see the effects of diabetes on different organs in a living system.
The research, published in the most recent issue of the journal Diabetes, is the result of four years of work and could answer some age-old questions about the disease.
Diabetes is a chronic disease affecting 25.8 million Americans—about 8.3 percent of the population. A symptom of the disease is that glucose, a type of sugar, is improperly processed by the body. It remains in the bloodstream and can have a toxic effect on organs. Patients with diabetes either produce too little insulin or build a resistance to it, which keeps cells from absorbing the glucose.
For decades, scientists puzzled over the cause and effect of diabetes on organs and tissues. Patients with diabetes show higher levels of free radicals—a by-product created when cells burn oxygen for fuel—but it’s unknown if the free radicals cause the disease or if the disease causes organs to create the free radicals, said Towner.
Using a specially designed antibody, Towner was able to use magnetic resonance imaging to visualize which organs created more free radicals because of diabetes.
“Working with the National Institute of Environmental Health Studies, we came up with a method to view free radical production in tissue using the MRI,” he said. “It’s a non-invasive method to see how diabetes works in a living organism.”
So far, studies have shown free radical creation in the lungs, liver and kidneys of mice with diabetes, Towner said. He plans to collaborate with other diabetes researchers to delve deeper into the disease, exploring the effects on the whole body all the way down to the mitochondria in cells, which create free radicals.
“This won’t just stop at diabetes, either,” he said. “The same method can also be used to look at other disease models.”
Towner collaborated with OMRF scientist Florea Lupu, Ph.D., former OMRF researcher Dario Ramirez, Ph.D., and scientists at the University of Chicago. Funding for the research was provided in part by OMRF and the NIEHS, part of the National Institutes of Health.