Diabetes: help from the brain
With the aid of genetic and physiological procedures, Dr Christophe Lamy of the University of Fribourg has succeeded in tracing the path of neurons in the brain stem which leads to hypoglycemia. A precise analysis of the associated mechanisms has shown that there is a specialised population of neurons which carry out the function of blood glucose sensors in this region of the brain. These cells are activated as soon as the level of glucose in the blood sinks too low, at which point they initiate a physiological reaction in order to return the blood glucose level to equilibrium. In diabetic patients this physical reaction worsens with repeated hypoglycemic events.
The vicious circle of hypoglycemia
In Switzerland, as in the rest of the world, diabetes is one of the most serious illnesses. It is a chronic disease characterised by a blood glucose level which is too high and can, over the short or long term, lead to serious complications if the sufferer does not receive the correct treatment. Paradoxically it is a blood glucose level which is too low, hypoglycemia, which is the most common short term complication in patients who are undergoing treatment. It can lead to neurological reactions, or even to a coma, if the blood glucose level is not raised quickly. Repeated occurrences of hypoglycemia can lead to a lessening of the body's in-built ability to "self-correct" and to recognise the condition and this contributes to an intensification of the hypoglycemia. Up till now, the mechanisms of this "desensitisation" had remained largely unknown and unresearched, so that the results of Dr Lamy's recent work open up new possibilities in the treatment of diabetes in the area of prevention as well as in the acute phase of this complication.
Dr Christophe Lamy is responsible for the recently created new research laboratory in the area of integrative physiology in the Department of Medicine of the University of Fribourg. The focus of his work is the interaction between human metabolism and the brain and is aimed at a better understanding of the origins of neurological and psychiatric illnesses as well as throwing more light on the role of the brain in the area of metabolic diseases. Dr Lamy's work is based on the latest techniques in electrophysiology, biophotonics, optogenetics and nanotechnology.
The results of this research have been published in the renowned scholarly journal Cell Metabolism and were developed together with Professor Bernard Thorens (Centre for Integrative Genomics) and Dr Jean-Yves Chatton (Department of Fundamental Neurosciences), both at the University of Lausanne.