As part of a $14.4 million campaign, UCSB’s Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies is working with five institutions to discover unprecedented ways in treating and preventing diabetes.
Together, UCSB, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Massachusetts, Pfizer, the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company, and Entelos, a physiological modeling company, will collaborate on the Insulin Resistance Pathway Project.
IRP is a three-year venture aiming to meet a major need in modern medicine to help fight diabetes and obesity, Senior Director in Pfizer’s Worldwide Exploratory Science and Technology organization Preston Hensley said. This has been a crucial problem for not only the West, but for the rest of the developing world, he said.
“Every pharmaceutical company has the same need,” Hensley said. “Diabetes and obesity are epidemic in the Western world and are becoming an epidemic in India and China. The problem stemming from this research, though, is that the government funds the basic research on which the pharmaceutical industry is built. They fund the research for the pursuit of knowledge, so the economy of the nation can take advantage of it and make money.”
Frank Doyle, UCSB professor of chemical engineering and associate director of ICB, said he is leading the computational biology portion of the research.
“The way that the cells’ [insulin] responds is what the project is about, and we use the computer to simulate how a cell would behave,” Doyle said. “So, in the body of a person who does not have Type 2 Diabetes, when the cells see insulin, the response of the cell is to take up glucose.”
Doyle said cells within people who have Type 2 Diabetes break down and do not function properly, which is called insulin resistance.
“Because of this, we make computer models of that process to try and understand why it’s happening, and by simulating the proteins inside the cell, we can come up with new ideas for drug targets,” he said. “There are more people affected in the world which we haven’t diagnosed yet.”
Type 2 diabetes is a leading cause of death, Doyle said, so it is one of the grand challenges in the medical community to find better treatment for the disease. He said UCSB entered the research consortium to understand the underlying biology of the enzyme, which means that scientists can inhibit the muscle or fat cell within the enzyme and cure the disease.
Pfizer is funding the project, and the results of the research will be available to the public in approximately three years, Hensley said.
Doyle said he is very optimistic for the program, as it has become UCSB’s opportunity to expand the university’s name as a leading research institution in diabetes.
“The nature of this research will evolve, and the grand goal of understanding the biology better is essential to our understanding of the enzyme. We hope that after three years we’ll have profound new insight on the biology. Certainly, we will understand the biology of the disease in three years,” he said.