Diabetes conference to look at lifestyle-cell interaction

Published 2012-10-26 00:00. Updated 2013-11-26 10:33

[PRESS INVITATION 26 October 2012] It is not just our own lifestyle that influences the risk of diabetes, but also the behaviour of our parents. A conference at Karolinska Institutet addresses both heredity and environment and the effects they have at cell level in this complex disease.

Reporters are welcome to attend the symposium and interview the scientists.

  • Conference: Symposium on Molecular and Physiological Aspects of Diabetes Mellitus
  • When: Friday 9 November, 2012, 9.00 am - 4.10 pm
  • Where: Nobel Forum, Wallenbergsalen, Karolinska Institutet, Nobels väg 1, Solna

Type II diabetes is reaching pandemic proportions. The increase is particularly serious in India and China, but in Britain, Germany and the southern parts of Europe there is also a sustained upward trend. For Europe as a whole, the number of diabetics is expected to increase from 53 million in 2011 to 64 million in 2030. In Sweden, there are almost 400,000 individual cases of diabetes, mostly caused by a sedentary lifestyle.

One of the currently most exciting areas in diabetes research is epigenetics, which describes how the environment impacts on gene expression. People's lifestyle and behaviour do not change the DNA sequence their children have, but they do influence how their DNA is packaged, presented and made available for expression. Dr Oliver Rando (USA) has shown that it is not only the mother's lifestyle that affects the child in this way; the father's DNA is also passed on with such markers or concealed messages to the child. Dr Rando presents how this can impact on the metabolism.

This is highly significant for a number of diseases, but particularly diabetes, which is a complex disease closely linked to both heredity and lifestyle. This tug-of-war between environment and genes is the subject of a presentation by Professor John Hawley (Australia). Physical activity protects against the disease since insulin sensitivity increases with exercise. Professor Hawley researches into what happens in the cells during physical activity and its public health ramifications. Sweden also has some strong research in this field, including the work of Professor Juleen Zierath at Karolinska Institutet, who has made important discoveries on how insulin sensitivity is regulated in the muscles when exercising. She is also one of the principal organisers of the symposium.

The relationship between lifestyle and genes were also examined in the GWA (Genome-Wide Association) study, which included 40,000 people. Dr Jose Florez (USA) will be sharing the knowledge that has been gathered from this enormous project.

We will be hearing more about the latest scientific breakthroughs from professors Victor Ambros (USA) and Markus Stoffel (Switzerland), who are researching into microRNA. The micoRNA molecule itself does not encode proteins, but it can still influence which proteins to be expressed by combining with other RNA molecules; this might prove to be one of the keys to understanding regulation in insulin-producing beta cells.

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