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New funding from Hjelt Diabetes Foundation to improve the understanding of diabetes

Photo of a researcher in the lab.
Anja Schmidt-Christensen is studying microstructural changes in humans with diabetic kidney disease. She was recently awarded a grant from the Hjelt Diabetes Foundation for her research project. Photo: Petra Olsson

Three researchers at Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC) have each been awarded a project grant of 47,500 euro by the Hjelt Diabetes Foundation. The aim of all three projects is to improve our understanding of diabetes and ultimately enable better treatments of type 2 diabetes and its complications. One of the three projects uses advanced technology to learn more about the mechanisms behind diabetic kidney disease.

The kidneys are vital life-sustaining organs that filter the blood to get rid of waste products and help the body maintain a healthy balance of water, salts, and minerals. Diabetes is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease, which means a gradual loss of kidney function.  Chronic kidney disease can progress to end-stage kidney failure, which requires lifelong dialysis treatment or kidney transplantation. It is important to improve the understanding of the disease to develop new treatments that can prevent or slow down disease progression. 

Anja Schmidt-Christensen, researcher at Lund University Diabetes Centre, studies microstructural changes in humans and rats with diabetic kidney disease. The generous grant from the Hjelt Foundation will help fund her project, which uses synchrotron x-ray microcomputed tomography (microCT) to study changes in kidney tissue samples.

“I am very thankful for this grant and feel very excited to pioneer the use of synchrotron technology for diabetic kidney disease. We made a test scan recently and were amazed at the level of detail we can see in our 3D images. The project will be a first step towards identifying microstructural changes in kidneys at different stages of the disease. This will give us a better understanding of how the disease develops, and the knowledge may be used to individualize the treatment of patients with type 2 diabetes,” says Anja Schmidt-Christensen, associate professor at the diabetic complications unit at Lund University Diabetes Centre. 

Treatments of obesity

The second project to receive funding is led by Sebastian Kalamajski, researcher in genetic and molecular epidemiology at LUDC. His research looks at the various genes that help us achieve proper energy intake balance. One of the genes involved in controlling energy expenditure is called PPARGC1A. It is estimated that over 40 percent of humans carry a genetic variant of the PPARGC1A gene that is associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes. For this project, Sebastian Kalamajski and his colleagues will make use of the CRISPR-Cas9 toolkit to gain an improved understanding of how this gene contributes to the energy metabolism of fat cells. Their research may result in new treatments of obesity being discovered.

“The grant will allow us to make more experiments, which hopefully will help us predict how well patients will respond to different obesity treatments. In the future, we are hoping to carry out clinical trials where we can assess how well patients respond to specific weight loss treatments based on their set of genes,” says Sebastian Kalamajski.

Studies of beta cell function

The third grant recipient Luis Rodrigo Cataldo, researcher in molecular metabolism at LUDC, is studying the role of a certain protein for beta cell metabolism and function. The role of beta cells is to sense glucose and respond by releasing insulin into the blood stream to maintain glucose balance, and a loss of this function leads to type 2 diabetes. 

The biological role of ependymin-related protein 1 (EPDR1) is poorly understood, but recent studies have suggested that EPDR1 may contribute to the regulation of energy metabolism in our bodies. Luis Rodrigo Cataldo has carried out experiments where he found that treatment of human beta cells with EPDR1 protein may increase insulin secretion. The grant from the Hjelt Diabetes Foundation will give him the opportunity to develop his research in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Copenhagen.

“At the end of our project, we hope to have a clearer understanding of how this protein may work to improve beta cell function. If we manage to confirm that this protein has a positive effect on beta cell function and glucose balance, it could potentially be used to develop new treatments for type 2 diabetes,” says Luis Rodrigo Cataldo. 

More information about the research projects 

The Hjelt Diabetes Foundation

The Bo & Kerstin Hjelt Diabetes Foundation was established in 2008 and is based in Switzerland. The Foundation’s goal is to fund research that can prevent and cure type 2 diabetes. The Bo and Kerstin Hjelt Diabetes Foundation supports researchers at Lund University and the University of Geneva.

Link to the website of Hjelt Diabetes Foundation