26 September 2007
Senior Garvan scientist, Dr Jenny Gunton, was one of four inspirational early career scientists to be awarded an inaugural L’Oréal For Women In Science Fellowship in late August. The award will help Gunton pursue her interest in the link between Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes and Vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency is becoming more prevalent in Australia, with one in four healthy women in the Sydney area now deficient. That figure rises to 62% in people with adult onset diabetes. The question is whether low vitamin D increases the risk of diabetes, or whether diabetes increases the risk of low vitamin D.
While undertaking post doctoral studies at Harvard Medical School two years ago, Gunton found that diabetics lacked ARNT, a master gene that appears to control other genes that affect glucose breakdown and insulin production. ARNT also works in partnership with the receptor for Vitamin D.
“ARNT is decreased by 90% in the pancreatic cells of people with Type 2 diabetes,” explained Gunton. “It appears to have a strong link with Vitamin D, suggesting a connection between Vitamin D deficiency and the onset of diabetes.”
To investigate the link between Vitamin D and diabetes, Gunton and her laboratory will use the $20,000 from the L’Oréal Fellowship to study the role of Vitamin D by deleting the Vitamin D receptor or by deleting the enzyme which makes the ‘active’ form of Vitamin D. These studies will tell us whether low vitamin D increases the risk of diabetes. If it does, she hopes to start patient trials late next year.