Australia helps one step closer to diabetes cure 13 May 2021 Diabetes researchers around the world may be closer to finding a cure for diabetes, after the work of an Australian researcher found scientists had been looking in the wrong place. Professor David James, one of Australia’s leading diabetes researchers, was awarded a Millennium Grant from Diabetes Australia, that supports long term research projects. Professor James used the Award to challenge a commonly held belief about diabetes. “At that time there was this broad thinking around what the mechanism was that contributed to insulin resistance,” he said. Professor James argues that researchers believed insulin resistance was due to a defect in what is referred to as the insulin signalling pathway. “Insulin is released from the pancreas in response to a meal. It circulates through blood seeking out its receptor molecules on cells in muscle fat and liver. Once there it binds to its receptor on these cells like a key in a lock,” Professor James explains. “Once the key opens the lock it opens up a transmission system inside these cells called the insulin signalling pathway to initiate all of the actions it must fulfil. One of these is the removal of glucose from the blood. In insulin resistance this system is broken and consequently glucose is not cleared effectively from blood.” Although it had been widely accepted that insulin resistance was the result of a fault in this system, Professor James’ work showed otherwise. “We had evidence that just did not support that,” adds Professor James. It wasn’t easy to go up against some of the world’s leading researchers in diabetes, but the pursuit of the truth motivated Professor James and his team to continue. “We wanted to know the truth and that’s what we did, and I’m quite proud of it actually. If you want to prove that this is the cause of something, then sometimes you must disprove things in order to move forward, that’s the scientific process.” “This was a huge mountain to climb because of the overwhelming burden of proof we were up against. That was the nature of our Millennium Award, and we took that on, and I have to say our work, largely as a function of that grant, has really taken a firm foothold in the field,” he said. The research done by Professor James and his team was considered ground-breaking around the world, though it was met with some criticism. “We still get some flak today, but I think that’s just sour grapes,” Professor James said. Researchers are now starting to look elsewhere for the true defect, thanks to Professor James’ work funded by the Millennium Award. “This is not something we’re going to solve tomorrow. Our work was just another brick in a wall, that will add to the final picture. I have no doubt in years to come people will look back and say that was fundamental in getting us to the place we need to get,” Professor James said. Funding for diabetes research in Australia is becoming more challenging, which is why the Millennium awards make such a difference. “There’s plenty of evidence that metabolic disease, which includes diabetes, cardiovascular and liver disease, is probably just as impactful on Australian health as cancer. We’ve got to get this on the agenda, we cannot lose our enthusiasm for this. Everybody’s got to get behind it, we have to get this out in the public domain,” he said. For Professor James, he can’t imagine doing any other kind of work. “The opportunity to go to work every day and sit behind a lab bench or wherever you end up and have the thought in the back of your mind that you’re making a real contribution to human beings, that to me is unparalleled.” Researchers rely on the support of generous donors to make their research possible. If you would like to help find a cure for diabetes, you can donate here.