Understanding the proteins that are targeted by the cosmetic drug Botox (onabotulinumtoxinA) could lead to breakthroughs against type 2 diabetes, according to researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland.

The researchers are using new microscopic techniques on Soluble NSF Attachment Protein Receptor (SNARE) proteins with an aim of discovering how insulin is regulated and how this can change in the development of type 2 diabetes.

Botox targets SNARE proteins, preventing them from helping the muscles contract. But the proteins also exist in the beta-cells of the pancreas.

The research team plan to observe the SNARE proteins within the beta-cells of the pancreas, which help the beta-cells release the insulin by attempting to stabilize blood glucose levels.

The researchers say type 2 diabetes can develop in people who have long-term obesity, when the beta-cells are unable to cope with long-term high glucose levels and secrete less insulin. They add that this process means the beta-cells lose both mass and function, but the reasons for this are unknown. This is what the researchers will attempt to find out.

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The organisation of SNARE proteins in a cell. The position of SNARE proteins is shown in purple with vesicles ready for release shown in green. Photo credit: Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh

Dr. Colin Rickman of the Heriot-Watt University told Medical News Today:

The idea is that we want to look at these proteins and look at how they are arranged on the membrane, what they are doing, how they are interacting, and how they change the diabetic’s history.”

“Nobody has ever done this before,” Dr. Colin Rickman added. He told MNT:

The interesting angle is that we are going to use microscopy, which allows us to see the individual molecules in the cell.

Normally you just see a cell, but you can’t see the individual proteins in the cell.

These techniques allow us to see tens of thousands of these molecules in the cell and look at how they are interacting and what they are up to.”

Depending on the final results of the research, he says that the work could lead to new methods of diagnosing diabetes, and even lead to ways of preventing it through early risk identification.

Dr. Colin Rickman said:

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A small cluster of SNARE proteins pinpointed using super-resolution microscopy. Each spot marks the position of an individual molecule. Photo credit: Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh

“Type 2 diabetes is usually caused by overconsumption of food and lack of exercise. People can live with obesity absolutely fine, until they reach that tipping point. But nobody really knows why the cells go through this tipping point.

“This research could enable us to understand how these processes are arranged and how it changes them to diabetic conditions.

“We could then use that as an assay to find out whether people are in danger of developing type 2 diabetes.”

The team has already started preliminary investigations, analyzing the proteins and how they are arranged, but the biggest part of the study is yet to come in terms of analyzing different proteins and cells types and discovering the general principles of how they change.

Dr. Colin Rickman adds that further results will be ready by the end of this year and the full study should reach completion by the early part of 2015.