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The part played by Apolipoprotein CIII in diabetes

Lisa Juntti-Berggren is Professor of Experimental Medicine at the Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery and researches on diabetes, especially apolipoprotein CIII. She aims to find new drugs for the prevention and treatment of the disease.

In the early 1990s, Lisa Juntti-Berggren discovered that serum from patients with type 1 diabetes is harmful to insulin-producing beta cells; ten years later, she identified the cause: raised levels of apolipoprotein CIII (apoCIII). This was unexpected, as the protein, although well-known to science, was associated with cardiovascular diseases rather than diabetes. Since then, Professor Juntti-Berggren continued to research the part played by apoCIII in diabetes.

“Since diabetes patients have raised levels of apoCIII in their blood, I wanted to see what happens when the concentration of the protein is lowered before the disease breaks out,” she says. “This we have tested in an animal model for type 1 diabetes. By reducing levels of apoCIII when the animals were still healthy we managed to delay the onset of the disease by the equivalent of eight human years. We’ve also found that apoCIII is linked to overweight, insulin sensitivity and the development of type 2 diabetes.”

Professor Juntti-Berggren’s research has produced a general explanation for the association: raised levels of apoCIII affect the cells’ ion channels, which leads to morbidly high calcium concentrations and subsequent cell death. However, the precise mechanisms behind this process remain to be discovered.

“Many diabetics develop complications in organs like the kidneys and eyes,” she says. “We can’t predict who will develop complications and we’ll be looking into whether apoCIII can be a predictor. If this is found to be the case, we can use it as a diagnostic tool.”

Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in "From Cell to Society" 2015. Translation: Neil Betteridge.