Texas Tech University

Infectobesity Expert Receives Seven-Figure Grant for Diabetes Research

Heidi Toth

July 8, 2015

During his research that led to the discovery of a virus that causes obesity, Nikhil Dhurandhar identified a viral protein that may lead to a new diabetes treatment.

Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar

A Texas Tech University professor may be only steps away from a drug that will change the way diabetes is treated, and he has a hefty grant to help him get there.

Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar, a professor and chairman of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Texas Tech, received almost $3 million from Vital Health Interventions while at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University. When he came to Texas Tech in November, he brought along both the project and the grant for continued research.

The research is based on human adenovirus 36, which causes obesity in humans and animals while at the same time reducing blood sugar, a phenomenon Dhurandhar first noticed years ago in rodent models.

“It's a little paradoxical because you have an agent that is making an animal fatter, so you would expect their glucose levels to deteriorate,” he said.

He isolated a protein from adenovirus 36 responsible for reducing blood sugar and tested it on both diabetic cells and animals. Both experiments showed the protein improved diabetes, and other researchers doing similar experiments confirmed Dhurandhar's results. The next step is developing a drug that eventually will be tested on humans, which, if successful, could be a significant step forward in treating diabetes.

How the protein works


Diabetes occurs when glucose builds up in the blood instead of being used by cells for energy production. In a normal circulatory system, glucose molecules in the bloodstream will enter the fat and muscle cells that line the blood vessels. Insulin, a hormone, is needed to start the molecular reaction that pulls the glucose into the cells.

A Type 1 diabetic doesn't produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes is known as insulin resistant; the body produces insulin but is ineffective in promoting glucose intake by the body's cells. In both types of diabetes, glucose can build up in the blood at dangerous levels. Providing insulin or drugs that promote the action of insulin are some of the main approaches to decrease glucose levels in the blood, thus treating diabetes. The adenovirus protein Dhurandhar and his research team identified reduces blood glucose levels in the absence of insulin and without mimicking the action of insulin.

Diabetes also affects the liver. The human body needs glucose all the time, which is provided by food. Normally, some of the surplus glucose is stored in the liver. This stored glucose is released when a person is not eating, and the release is terminated when a person is eating. In diabetes, this release of glucose is uncontrolled, thus contributing to an increase in blood glucose levels.

This protein also blocks uncontrolled glucose from liver cells, Dhurandhar said, which would contribute to lower blood sugar.

“The beauty of this is this protein acts independent of insulin. Hence, the drug we develop may work for Type 1 because it will act in the absence of insulin, or it could work in Type 2 in the presence of insulin resistance,” he said.

He is optimistic the protein will have similar effects on humans as it has shown in other organisms.