Clifford Craig Foundation grant to study zinc and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes

20 Nov 2017

A study looking into zinc transporters in the body’s cells is underway, which will help scientists better understand insulin resistance in type 2 diabetic patients.

University of Tasmania biomedical science lecturer Dr Stephen Myers is leading the Launceston study, which is being funded by the Clifford Craig Foundation.

A 2018 grant from the foundation will allow the ongoing research to continue next year.

“There’s a stage called insulin resistance and that’s when the cells in your body don’t respond to insulin, so therefore, they don’t get the glucose that you have in your meals that’s floating around in your blood,” Dr Myers said.

“They don’t get the glucose into the cells, so you become what’s called insulin resistant, and that can occur up to about 10 years before the development of type 2 diabetes.

“So really, we’re working at that stage of insulin resistance so that we can design ways to better manage or have therapeutic utility for designing particular drugs, for example, that may cure insulin resistance before the development of type 2 diabetes.”

Zinc is an important molecule in the body’s cells, which targets other molecules and switches them on and off, Dr Myers said.

By switching the molecules on and off, it allows cells to function normally, absorbing glucose into them.

“Up until now, we’ve identified that the transporters that transport zinc in cells are defective when the cells become insulin resistant, so the next stage is to understand how they’re becoming defective.

“That’s from the studies we’ve been doing on human cells in the laboratory. These are just cells that are grown on plastic plates, so they don’t truly represent a physiological human being, but they’re the closest thing we can get to see what might be going on.

Next year’s research will involve collecting skeletal muscle samples from type 2 diabetic patients and non-diabetic patients, who are already undergoing surgery for hip or knee replacements.

“So we’re hoping to recapitulate that in the human studies, in that what we’ll see in the muscle samples from the diabetic patients is perhaps those zinc transporters are not working as well either.

“The next step, and it’s a long way – it takes many, many years. But the next step is, once we identify that this is a potential target for diabetes treatment, then perhaps there’s ways to design small molecules that mimic zinc that could be used as drug therapy to target some of these receptors or these transporters to fix them, the make them work the way they should be working.

“I’d like to thank Clifford Craig for their generous grant and the nurses and surgeons at LGH for helping me.”


Carly Dolan – The Examiner, Launceston