Diabetes and cancer: A shared biological basis

September 29, 2011

Contrary to what you might think, cancer and diabetes appear to have some biology in common. According to a report in the September 30th issue of the Cell Press journal, Cell, a pathway that initially drew attention for its role in embryonic stem cells and cancer also influences the odds that mice develop or resist diabetes.

Mice with high levels of the cancer-promoting proteins Lin28a or Lin28b become more sensitive to insulin and less prone to diabetes when on a high-fat diet, the new study shows.

"This highlights the overlap in the biology of these disorders," said George Daley of Harvard Medical School. "It may be the same kinds of metabolic shifts that allow cancer cells to grow are also related to [whole-body] ."

In fact, there were clues about such a connection, but "no obvious mechanism," he says. For instance, studies have shown that within a tumor are able to grow more rapidly by shifting the way they use glucose. Genome-wide association studies for have also pinpointed several with known links to cancer or the cell cycle.

Daley's team, including first authors Hau Zhu and Ng Shyh-Chang, had noticed earlier that an immature form of the microRNA (tiny bits of RNA that silence genes by targeting ) known as let-7 is abundant in stem cells. "It allows stem cells to be stem cells," Zhu says.

Let-7 is also important in preventing cancer, Zhu explained, and its activity is blocked by the cancer-promoting RNA-binding protein Lin28. Lin28 is also known as an ingredient that can help turn into embryonic stem cell-like cells.

"Mice with too much Lin28 grow really large," Zhu said based on their earlier work. "They are giant mice and they soak up glucose really efficiently." The new study shows that Lin28 are also resistant to diabetes and obesity. That resistance holds even as the mice grow older, said Shyh-Chang.

Mice lacking Lin28a or that have increases in let-7 become insulin resistant and have impaired glucose tolerance. These metabolic changes occurred in part through effects linked to the insulin-PI3K-mTOR pathway, which is important in cancer and basic metabolism.

Importantly, the researchers also found that let-7 acts on many genes with apparent links to type 2 diabetes and glucose control in humans. This may prove to be good news for those in search of new ways to tackle complex conditions like diabetes, which have many genetic drivers, each with relatively small effects.

"MicroRNAs touch multiple targets in subtle ways," Shyh-Chang said. "Our findings suggest that let-7 and perhaps other microRNAs may help to unify the picture of how type 2 diabetes develops."

Explore further: Scientists use uterine stem cells to treat diabetes

Related Stories

Scientists use uterine stem cells to treat diabetes

September 14, 2011
Controlling diabetes may someday involve mining stem cells from the lining of the uterus, Yale School of Medicine researchers report in a new study published in the journal Molecular Therapy. The team treated diabetes in ...

Recommended for you

A sodium surprise: Engineers find unexpected result during cardiac research

July 20, 2017
Irregular heartbeat—or arrhythmia—can have sudden and often fatal consequences. A biomedical engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis examining molecular behavior in cardiac tissue recently made a surprising ...

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

Lunatic Fringe gene plays key role in the renewable brain

July 19, 2017
The discovery that the brain can generate new cells - about 700 new neurons each day - has triggered investigations to uncover how this process is regulated. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan ...

New animal models for hepatitis C could pave the way for a vaccine

July 19, 2017
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of hepatitis C—a disease that affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated—it might be worth ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.