obesity

Scientists discover role of immune cells in developing type 2 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on March 20, 2017

Immune cells, which are reduced in number in people who are obese, could be a new target to develop treatments for type 2 diabetes that affects those who are overweight, new research suggests.

A new collaborative study between the University of Manchester and the University of Salford and Lund University in Sweden investigated a type of immune cell called eosinophils.

Eosinophils are present in a layer of fat tissue called the perivascular adipose tissue (PVAT), which surrounds blood vessels and helps to maintain normal blood vessel function by reducing artery contraction.

The research found that eosinophils were considerably reduced in the PVAT in obesity in mice and that the PVAT function was severely impaired, contributing to type 2 diabetes and hypertension. This is not something that has previously been observed.

Dr Sheena Cruickshank, the lead researcher on the Wellcome Trust funded study, explained that this type of immune cell is present in many parts of the body and was once thought to just act in parasitic infections and allergies, but it’s fast becoming clear that they have a significant effect on lots of aspects of health and immunity.

‘Our study showed that in fact the secretions from eosinophils have a profound effect on how the blood vessels operate and when they are missing, as in obesity, serious health problems can start to develop,’ she said.

The researchers also pointed out that the role of the eosinophils opens up new opportunities to investigate treatments for type 2 diabetes and hypertension. PVAT from fat that lack eosinophils could quickly be rescued by addition of eosinophils, demonstrating that there is the potential for a treatment based on restoring this function.

The researchers observed that the eosinophils influenced the release of nitric oxide and a protein called adiponectin, which control healthy PVAT function. This appears to be a unique function of these immune cells.

The team of researchers are particularly excited by how quickly the eosinophils could restore PVAT function, showing just how potent they may be.

‘These immune cells have been traditionally overlooked but this study shows for the first time that they have a direct role to play in processes in the body beyond the immune system, Cruickshank pointed out.

‘They seem to be incredibly important in a number of processes and this presents us with an exciting new area to investigate for a whole range of illnesses,’ she concluded.

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