Cells from the Research Institute of the MUHC on the road to China
Friday, April 17, 2009 - 15:05
The diabetes epidemic is devastating many areas of the world. In China, approximately 20 million people suffer from the disease - and the number keeps growing. To meet this massive health challenge, the Chinese government is encouraging researchers from all over the world to collaborate with Chinese scientists in the development of effective diabetes therapies.
To fund an innovative Quebec-Chinese research initiative in this area, the Ministère du Développement économique, de l'Innovation et de l'Exportation from Quebec recently awarded a grant of $150,000 to Dr. Constantin Polychronakos of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) in Montreal. The funding will be used to establish a partnership with Dr. Du, Director of the Pharmacology Institute of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Beijing. The collaboration will focus on a new therapeutic approach to preventing type 2 diabetes.
Contrary to popular belief, the pancreas is not the only insulin-producing organ of the body. The thymus also produces a small quantity of insulin. While insufficient to regulate blood glucose levels, this insulin "programs" the immune system to recognize the peptide as "self." In healthy people, this programming prevents pancreatic insulin from being destroyed by an immune reaction. Dr. Polychronakos has studied this mechanism for many years and has succeeded in creating a culture line of insulin-producing thymus cells.
His goal is to find a drug that would trigger these cells to secrete more insulin. This would theoretically increase the body's tolerance to the hormone and thus reduce the symptoms of diabetes. However, achieving this objective means testing approximately 100,000 different compounds with special high-performance drug screening equipment-precisely the technology that is available in Dr. Du's laboratory in Beijing.
The collaboration between Dr. Polychronakos and Dr. Du will allow each one to benefit from the other's technology. Their research initiative has enormous potential and international scope. The project is expected to get underway no later than fall, 2008.
Dr. Constantin Polychronakos is Director of the MUHC's Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism Division, Co-Leader of the Endocrinology, Diabetes, Nutrition and Kidney Diseases Axes of the Research Institute of the MUHCand Professor of Pediatrics and Human Genetics at McGill University.
This project is co-funded by the Ministère du Développement économique, de l'Innovation et de l'Exportation, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and the Government of the People's Republic of China.