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The fundamental goal of Juan Alvarez’s research? “In a nutshell,” he says, “I’m trying to cure diabetes.” This podcast discusses the exciting potential of his goal by exploring the specific elements of pancreas function and metabolic misfires that lead to diabetes.

Listen and learn

  • How he’s working on a substitution for pancreatic beta cells by developing islets in a laboratory,
  • How he’s untangling two common causes of type 2 diabetes, namely pancreatic beta cells losing maturity and insulin receptors losing efficiency, and
  • How one promising approach addresses the importance of eating and fasting rhythms on pancreatic beta cell function.

Recently awarded an NIH Diabetes Grant, Juan R. Alvarez is an HHMI LSRF Research Fellow with Melton Laboratory at Harvard University. His research investigates causes of diabetes such as the connection between nonfunctioning pancreatic beta cells and diabetes and the impaired uptake of insulin in adipose and muscle tissue. These describe two common causes of type 2 diabetes.

In the first case, his group hypothesizes that the pancreas’s beta cells are over worked—an overwhelming demand for insulin exhausts the cells and many begin to lose their mature function or phenotype. They believe these cells protect themselves and prevent cell death by returning to this progenitor state.

The other common cause of type 2 diabetes is often termed “insulin resistance.” It’s the job of insulin to encourage muscle and adipose tissues to take up glucose from the blood and use it as fuel. These tissues have insulin receptors to do just that, but in some cases, these receptors become less efficient due to genetics or other metabolic issues or a combination of the two.

Dr. Alvarez discusses some promising ways to address these causes, including a focus on the effects eating and fasting rhythms may have on the insulin-producing cells and how a jarring of that rhythm could lead to the beta cells losing their mature state. If they understand this, they might find a protein to reactivate or a molecule to inhibit to bring the beta cells back to their mature phenotype. He and Richard discuss other health connections between diabetes and disease such as cancer and chronic pancreatitis and diabetes. Listen in for how one top researcher is working on a cure for diabetes.

For links to Dr. Alvarez’s published research, see his page at Harvard: hscrb.harvard.edu/people/juan-alvarez.

Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK

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