Australian scientists discover new sugar to overcome diabetes

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 20th December 2011

Researchers from The Australian National University have discovered a new treatment for Type-1 diabetes by using a new form of complex sugar, heparan sulphate.

Diabetes Type-1 is an auto-immune disease which currently affects some 130,000 Australians. The research breakthrough has been published today in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, a leading American medical journal.

Dr Charmaine Simeonovic and Professor Christopher Parish from The John Curtin School of Medical Research have identified a previously unknown process which causes destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The researchers found that the insulin-producing cells need heparan sulphate for their survival.

Insulin is a hormone which helps move sugars from the food into cells for energy. In Type-1 diabetes the human body’s immune system destroys these cells by mechanisms that are not well understood.

Dr Simeonovic said, “We’ve discovered that replacement of heparan sulphate in the beta cells rescues the cells from dying and prevents them from damage caused by oxidation. This new work has identified heparan sulphate depletion in beta cells as a major cause of beta cell death.”

“The sugar can be used in a new therapeutic strategy for preventing progression of the autoimmune disease and associated complications,” he added.

Dr Simeonovic said they are developing new drugs to take advantage of the discovery. A start-up biotechnology company, Beta Therapeutics, has been set up to translate their findings to the clinic.