Irish team identifies proteins with crucial role in Type 2 diabetes control

9 Sep 2019

Image: © Tatiana Shepeleva/

A team of Trinity researchers has discovered a family of proteins that could one day lead to better treatments for those with type 2 diabetes.

In a paper published to Nature Communications, scientists from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Medicine have made a breakthrough with potentially major ramifications for those living with diabetes.

The team said that, for the first time, a family of proteins has been discovered that are associated with lower blood sugar levels among those with type 2 diabetes. This means that those with high levels of the protein – called IL-36 cytokines – are typically able to better control their blood sugar levels and their disease.

Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 is brought on by a build-up of fatty acids and inflammation leading to insulin resistance. When the body is resistant to the insulin it produces, it causes a high build-up of glucose or blood sugar.

IL-36 cytokines are members of a large family of proteins known as interleukin-1, which have emerged as key players in the development of obesity-related disease. Over time, researchers have linked the protective effects of these proteins with their ability to alter the make-up of the intestinal microbiome.

More than 854,000 adults over the age of 40 in Ireland are believed to be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a health survey published last year. The team said that there is now greater urgency in this field of research to better understand the mechanisms behind it.

Lead scientist Dr Patrick Walsh said: “This study has added to a substantial body of work which has revealed the important function of the broader interleukin-1 family as mediators of metabolic health and disease.

“Our findings have opened the door to a deeper investigation of how IL-36 cytokines impact on the development of such diseases in humans and whether this can be exploited for the better treatment of patients.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic