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Joslin Offers Glimpses of Cutting-Edge Diabetes Research

Joslin Diabetes Center researchers Aaron Cypess, Jason Gaglia, Gail Musen and Jennifer Sun

Drs. Cypess, Gaglia, Musen and Sun.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Researchers have always struggled to visualize what happens in pancreatic islets during the autoimmune process that triggers type 1 diabetes. Jason Gaglia, M.D., and his colleagues have come up with an innovative noninvasive way to provide images of this process in living people, via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Dr. Gaglia was among Joslin scientists who outlined their work in a public event that drew more than 100 attendees to the Center last week.

In another talk, Jennifer Sun, M.D., outlined lessons being learned from the Joslin 50-Year Medalist study, which has shown that some people who have had diabetes for many years show surprisingly few complications. Many Joslin scientists are combining their expertise to look for the factors that guard against damage in these lucky few. In a paper published in the April issue of the Diabetes Care journal, Dr. Sun and her colleagues summarized the state of diabetes complications among 351 Medalists. Their work gave more information about the roles played in complications by a family of proteins called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are increased by high blood sugar levels.

Two years ago Joslin scientists and their colleagues published surprising proof that energy-burning brown fat can remain active in adults. Aaron Cypess, M.D., Ph.D., described his work in studying brown fat in human volunteers. Joslin researchers are also making progress in uncovering how brown fat cells are developed and activated at the molecular level. “Joslin’s ‘Team Fat’ has multiple programs that are making very exciting progress,” Dr. Cypess said.

Gail Musen, Ph.D., is examining whether warning signs for Alzheimer’s disease can be detected among people with insulin resistance, who are at higher risk for developing the grim neurodegenerative disease. Dr. Musen and her colleagues are employing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain activity in people with various levels of insulin resistance, “helping to identify people who are at risk so that we can try early interventions to decrease that risk,” she said.

William Hsu, M.D., noted that Asian Americans are more prone to get type 2 diabetes than Caucasian Americans, and western diets often get the blame. He gave a snapshot of study that compared the effects of a traditional Asian diet versus a western diet among members of the two groups, closely matched in age and body weight. These research volunteers ate carefully prepared and measured traditional Asian meals for four weeks, then switched to a similarly calibrated western diet for another four weeks. Preliminary analyses showed that everyone lost weight on the Asian diet, he said.

Dr. Hsu’s talk led neatly to the morning’s final speaker, Ming Tsai, host of the Simply Ming TV cooking show and owner of the Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Given the global march of obesity and its close ties to type 2 diabetes, “I’m a strong believer that food is the next medicine,” Tsai said. “At Blue Ginger, we do what we can under the radar to make things healthy.” Part of his approach is serving brown rather than white rice, and Tsai revealed his secret recipe: Soak brown rice in water for an hour and cook it together with an equal amount of white rice. He then invited the audience to evaluate the results, serving up a Blue Ginger lunch in the Joslin atrium.

“I’m a strong believer in food as medicine,” said Ming Tsai, serving lunch at Joslin alongside Dr. George King, chief scientific officer.


Joslin Diabetes Center's Drs. Aaron Cypess, Jason Gaglia, Gail Musen and Jennifer Sun discuss their work.

Page last updated: October 16, 2019