New diabetes research at CSU

Sunday 31 Jul 2016

New breakthrough research at Charles Sturt University (CSU) has demonstrated that a protein in the mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells, plays a role in protecting against the progression of diabetes in humans.

Known as humanin or HN, the protein has previously been indirectly linked with diabetes and diabetes progression based on its effects in cultured cells or in animal models.

International studies have also found humanin to be associated with conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke-like episodes (MELAS) and chronic progressive external ophthalmoplegia (CPEO), which are related to extensive oxidative stress in human cells.

However, in the new CSU study, Dr Herbert Jelinek, from the School of Community Health in Albury-Wodonga, and international student Anne Voigt, from Germany's Free University of Berlin, wanted to focus on the role humanin plays in human diabetes.

Dr Jelinek said, "I wanted to see what happens in pre-diabetic humans as previous studies of diabetes have involved animal models. I wondered if humanin had any role to play at the early, pre-clinical stage of diabetes progression."

As part of the study to assess the role of humanin in type 2 diabetes progression, blood tests from patients attending a diabetes screening clinic at CSU between 2011 and 2014 were analysed.

"We looked at pre-diabetics, that is, those with elevated sugar levels but below that considered for a diagnosis of diabetes and whether humanin levels are significantly different at this point of the disease," he said.

"We found humanin is significantly decreased in pre-diabetes and suggests that humanin in a human model may play a role in protecting against diabetes progression by decreasing oxidative stress."

Humanin binds or interacts with molecules involved in oxidative stress in cells and it may protect cells and mitochondria at the pre-diabetic level with small increases of sugar.

Dr Jelinek said, "The significance of this research is that the mitochondrial protein, humanin, has been shown to have a significant role in protecting against oxidative stress in humans and provides a further piece to the puzzle of which factors play a major role in diabetes progression.

"The rate of diabetes both in Australia and globally continues to rise due to the ageing population, associated to an increase in cognitive decline, obesity and hypertension in the community.

"As a result, there needs to be more emphasis on research, like this study, to identify connections between diabetes and other chronic diseases and conditions," he said.

To this end, Dr Jelinek is currently undertaking more diabetes research at CSU with two French international students from the University of Poitiers in France.

The French students, Ms Antoine Dayre and Ms Chloe Pouvreau are studying connections between obesity and diabetes and hypertension and diabetes.

Dr Jelinek said, "The work we do here at Charles Sturt University is about factors that may play a role in the progression of diabetes, especially pre-diabetes and also developing models that can explain the disease progression that can lead to better identification and ultimately prevention of diabetes".


Media contact: Fiona Halloran and Emily Malone , (02) 6933 2207

Media Note:

The study by Ms Anne Voigt from Free University of Berlin and Dr Herbert Jelinek from CSU, Humanin: a mitochondrial signalling peptide as a biomarker for impaired fasting glucose related oxidative stress was published in Physiological Reports, Vol. 4, Issue 9, 2016, pp1-5. 

The study was approved by the CSU Human Research Ethic Committee.

Dr Jelinek is in the School of Community Health at CSU in Albury-Wodonga. He is available for interview on Monday 1 and Tuesday 2 August. Contact CSU Media.

The French students are at CSU until the middle of August.