“We’re using caterpillars as a model for diabetes and to test a new technique for the early detection of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s.” Dr Jean Van Den Elsen, Department of Biology & Biochemistry
The Manduca sexta, or ‘six-fold glutton’ caterpillar, loves sugar. By feeding it plenty of its favourite diet, Jean Van Den Elsen and his team are able to monitor the effect of high glucose on protein damage in the body. In turn, we can learn more about diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
The attachment of sugars to proteins is a very important and well controlled process in healthy people. Sometimes, however, carbohydrates like glucose bind to proteins without the controlling action of an enzyme. These modifications are known to be an important factor and indicator in ageing and age-related chronic diseases. Jean’s technique is helping to develop more tools to detect and identify these modifications and ultimately, we hope, provide more effective treatments for an ageing population.