Sonia Ruiz

A new Yale study has found a pathway for the secreted protein apelin that could help create new Type 2 diabetes treatments.

Hyung Chun, a cardiology professor at the Yale School of Medicine, found the pathway through which apelin and its receptor — a protein that helps regulate the transfer of fatty acids — control the insulin-glucose relationship in the blood stream. Chun and his lab discovered that one of the main functions in the signaling pathway of apelin is the inhibition of the fatty acid-binding protein 4 (FABP4) within the blood vessels. In this way, the researchers found pathways that could point directly to new therapies of Type 2 diabetes, a disease that has become increasingly prevalent throughout the world. The paper was published in the Science Translational Medicine journal on Sept. 13.

More than 29 million Americans have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chun referenced similar statistics, noting that the prevalence of the disease is only likely to increase, adding that one in three Americans are expected to be diabetic by 2050.

By way of background, Chun said, previous studies had already noted the sensitivity of mice to insulin, along with the increase in glucose utilization associated with injection of the apelin peptide.

In this study, the researchers found the mechanism by which apelin is involved in fatty acid uptake throughout the body. Describing the mechanism, Chun said that the apelin peptide signals specifically through blood vessel cells to both limit fatty acid uptake and increase the efficiency of glucose use in mice.

Asked about his future research plans, Chun said he hopes to “come up with ways in which we can turn these [discoveries] into therapies that can be used in humans.” He added that his lab is currently investigating different small-molecule compounds to be taken in pill form as treatments for Type 2 diabetes.

According to the paper, the research illustrates how these “mechanistic insights” could help lead the way for further clinical research in Type 2 diabetes, as well as potential progress in the treatment of other related diseases.

In pointing to the importance of treating Type 2 diabetes, Chun raised its strong correlation to cardiovascular disease, adding that he hopes the paper’s results will contribute to more positive cardiovascular outcomes in a clinical setting.

The research paper had two first authors — Jingxia Wu and Cheol Hwangbo — and involved collaborators from outside institutions, including Stanford University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City.

Approximately one third of people who have diabetes do not know they have it, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Ashna Gupta | ashna.gupta@yale.edu