SWELL1 is a Glucose Sensor Regulating β-cell Excitability and Systemic Glycaemia

Rajan Sah, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine Cardiology Division and member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center was recently awarded a Research Grant from the American Diabetes Association (ADA). The project entitled: SWELL1 regulation of ß-cell excitability and insulin secretion will be supported by the $345,000 award over the next three years. Also, this leading edge experimentation was published in the January issue of Nature Communication.

Dr. Sah’s laboratory discovered that a protein SWELL1 regulates the electrical activity on the surface membranes of pancreatic beta cells that is critical for insulin release. Diabetes (elevated blood sugar) is a major cause of death and disease world-wide, and thus effective treatments will have a huge impact on health globally. Diabetes is characterized by both a loss of insulin sensitivity and, ultimately, a relative loss of insulin-secretion from the pancreatic beta-cell. Accordingly, therapeutic strategies for the treatment of diabetes aim to improve insulin-sensitivity or augment insulin-secretion from the pancreatic beta-cell. In this article, we describe a new protein in the pancreatic beta-cell that significantly affects insulin secretion. This protein is an ion channel that controls the flow of a particular ion out of the pancreatic beta cell and is responsible for activating it so that it secretes insulin.  Our work is significant because it has identified a novel protein that regulates pancreatic beta cell insulin secretion in a very significant way. While previous research and pharmacotherapy have focused on inhibitory ion channels to augment insulin secretion from the beta cell, there has been little work on the necessary activating ion channels, in large part due to a gap in knowledge regarding the identity of these activating channels. We have filled this knowledge gap and anticipate that this new protein could represent a new drug target for beta cell targeted pharmacotherapy.

Congratulations to the Sah Laboratory for this outstanding achievement.