Frances Ashcroft (Oxford) 1: Diabetes: a global pandemic

Frances Ashcroft (Oxford) 1: Diabetes: a global pandemic

Recording date: 17/01/2018
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Frances Ashcroft and her colleagues have identified mutations in a potassium channel as the cause of neonatal diabetes. Their discovery vastly improved treatment for patients. https://www.ibiology.org/human-disease/neonatal-diabetes/ Talk Overview: (Part 1 of 2) Diabetes is a devastating disease which takes an enormous toll on both human life and healthcare spending worldwide.  Dr. Frances Ashcroft begins her talk by explaining that blood glucose must be controlled within narrow limits. In a healthy person, insulin is released from the pancreatic beta cells in response to a rise in blood sugar, which stimulates the uptake of glucose into muscle, liver and fat and so restores the blood glucose to its resting level. Diabetes occurs when the beta cells do not release enough insulin, resulting in chronically high blood sugar levels.  There are several types of diabetes: type 1 occurs because the beta cells are damaged by autoimmune attack; type 2, the most common form, is usually due to a combination of insulin resistance and decreased insulin secretion and is exacerbated by obesity and age; monogenic diabetes results from a mutation in a single gene.   Neonatal diabetes is a rare monogenic form of diabetes that presents at, or shortly after, birth. Ashcroft explains that in 1984, she and her colleagues found that the function of an ATP-sensitive potassium channel (KATP channel) in the plasma membrane of pancreatic beta cells is critical for linking increased blood glucose levels to insulin secretion. They postulated that a mutation that caused the KATP channel to be permanently open would impair insulin release.  Twenty years later, these mutations were identified and shown to be the cause of neonatal diabetes. Speaker Biography: Professor Dame Frances Ashcroft is the GlaxoSmithKline Royal Society Research Professor in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, and a Fellow of Trinity College, at the University of Oxford.   Ashcroft received her BA and PhD degrees from Cambridge University and was a post-doctoral fellow at Leicester University and the University of California, Los Angeles. When she set up her own lab at Oxford, Ashcroft began to study how a rise in blood sugar levels leads to the release of insulin from the pancreatic beta cells, and what goes wrong with this process in diabetes. Ashcroft’s more recent research has focused on neonatal diabetes, a rare genetic form of the disease that typically develops soon after birth.  Together with her colleagues, she has shown that mutations in an ATP-sensitive potassium channel in the plasma membrane are responsible for this disease. Understanding the mechanism of action of this potassium channel has allowed many patients to switch from insulin injections to oral drug therapy. In addition, insights gained from the study of neonatal diabetes have implications for the understanding and treatment of type 2 diabetes, a much more common disease. Ashcroft was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1999 and in 2012 she was the European Laureate for the L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Award.  Learn more about Ashcroft’s research here: https://www.dpag.ox.ac.uk/team/frances-ashcroft

Frances Ashcroft (University of Oxford)


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