New treatments for T2 diabetes and cancer

If you think transporters are just for Star Trek fans, think again. 

We are trying to develop a drug that mimics gastric bypass surgery

If you think transporters are just for Star Trek fans, think again.  Professor Stefan Broer is using the transporters in cell membranes to develop new treatments for Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

A rare genetic disorder that reduces the ability to digest proteins could be the key to new treatments for Type 2 diabetes. 

Hartnup’s disorder is caused by a transport protein mutation, reducing absorption of the products of protein digestion.  “It is similar to gastric bypass surgery, except that just the ability to digest protein is reduced”, said lead Researcher Stefan Broer.  “We are trying to develop a drug that mimics gastric bypass surgery”.

Professor Broer’s research team found that mice with the same genetic defect have superior control of their blood glucose levels.  “These mice are exceptionally good at removing glucose from the circulation after a meal," he said.

“The mice live normal happy lives without the transporters”, said Prof. Broer, “and few humans with Hartnup disorder have any symptoms other than a skin rash as children”.

Drugs that target transporters can be used for other diseases as well. Cancer cells have a high demand for amino acids to sustain their growth. Most cancer therapies inhibit cell division, but as a side-effect also hit fast growing cells in the body. This causes well known side effects of chemotherapy such as infections, hair loss and intestinal problems. 

Controlling cancer cell growth by blocking nutrient uptake in the cancer cell could be designed to reduce these side effects, said Prof. Broer. 

 “A cancer cell needs amino acids to grow, and would be vulnerable to a limit in amino acid supply, “he said.  “We need to find out which transporters we can target without hitting other cells”.

Things are looking promising.  Growth of cancer cells in the petri dish was significantly affected by the blocked nutrient supply.

Stefan Broer has been at ANU since 2000, and has worked on protein transporters for most of his adult life – first in bacteria and then in mammalian cells.  It’s safe to say he is passionate about the subject.  He is also a dedicated dog owner, and keeping with the transport theme, a model railway enthusiast.  He is currently Deputy Director of the RSB.

Updated:  16 June 2019/Responsible Officer:  Director RSB/Page Contact:  Webmaster RSB