New West Australian research has discovered that a single gene change may be putting people at increased risk of insulin resistance and fatty liver disease by changing calcium levels within energy-producing machines in our cells.

The research by University of WA Professor Aleksandra Filipovska, supported by a $60,000 grant from Diabetes Research WA, found the common variation of a gene changed energy metabolism in cells.

“Our study revealed that this single gene change lowered insulin release on a high-fat diet,” explained Professor Filipovska, who is also the head of the Mitochondrial Medicine and Biology laboratory at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

“This reduced insulin secretion resulted in lower insulin levels, contributing to imbalanced metabolism and liver steatosis, also known as fatty liver disease.

“These findings, published in the prestigious journal, Science Advances, reveal this gene variant may be a predisposing factor to insulin resistance and metabolic disease, including type 2 diabetes.”

The group now hopes to test how specific diets and exercise regimens may affect this single gene change.

“As this gene variation is common it would be incredibly powerful to pinpoint how we may target it to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes by altering our nutrition and energy usage,” explained Professor Filipovska.

“We also hope we can use this new knowledge of the molecular mechanisms linked to this gene change to look for new pharmaceutical interventions to delay insulin resistance.”

Diabetes Research WA executive director Sherl Westlund said: “Type 2 diabetes has an enormous impact on the health of so many and places a significant burden on families and workplaces so it’s essential we look at all avenues to tackle it.”

Professor Oliver Rackham from Curtin University, Dr Stefan Siira and Judith Ermer, both from The University of WA, are also part of the research team.

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