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Studying treatments for metabolic syndrome with human muscle samples

Researcher: Areej Alsomani

Location: FRAME Lab, University of Nottingham

Metabolic syndrome – a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity – affects millions of adults in the UK. Dr Areej Alsomani has been using samples of human muscles to study chemicals they release after exercise, which could potentially be developed into treatments. Areej’s research could replace some animal experiments into metabolic diseases.

The problem

Metabolic syndrome is the name given to a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. This combination is estimated to affect 1 in 3 adults over 50 in the UK. Metabolic syndrome puts people at risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, and other conditions that affect the blood vessels.  

It is known that regular physical activity can delay or even prevent metabolic syndrome. Researchers have found that muscles release small proteins called myokines when they contract. These myokines can have a positive effect on metabolic syndrome, increasing glucose uptake from the blood and improving the breakdown of fat. As a result, myokines have been identified as a potential treatment for preventing metabolic diseases and metabolic syndrome.  

Much of the research into metabolic syndrome has used rodents, such as mice, rats, and hamsters. Attempts to reproduce this condition in animals include changing their diet, genetic modification, or the use of drugs. However, these animal models have not been able to provide reliable findings relevant to humans, because of the differences between rodents and people. They also cannot replicate the complex environmental and genetic factors which contribute to metabolic syndrome in people. So, we need to develop new ways of studying metabolic syndrome in the lab which are more directly relevant to humans.

The project

Dr Areej Alsolami used small samples of muscle donated by human volunteers to investigate the role of muscle in metabolic syndrome. She was interested in the role of a myokine called lipocalin-2, which is produced and released by the muscle after exercise.  

Areej grew samples of human muscle tissue in the lab, and then used electrical impulses to stimulate the effects of exercise on the muscle. She found that the amount of lipocalin-2 released by muscles increases in response to these electrical impulses.  She also found higher levels of lipocalin-2 in muscles from people affected by metabolic syndrome. These findings suggest that lipocalin-2 has a role in metabolic syndrome and could open opportunities for treatments.   

“Using human muscle cells – as we are doing in the FRAME lab – is a better method of studying human diseases to understand their mechanisms so that appropriate treatments can be developed.”

Dr Areej Alsolami. 

The potential

Areej’s research has confirmed that lipocalin-2 could have a role in metabolic syndrome. Further research into lipocalin-2 could potentially lead to new treatments for the condition, which could prevent or delay the onset of this illness in millions of people.  

Her work has also shown how human muscle samples can be used in research for metabolic disorders and metabolic syndrome, as an alternative to experiments using rodents. This could replace experiments using animals in the future, as well as providing a way of studying metabolic syndrome that could benefit people sooner.  

 Dr Areej Alsolami completed her PhD research at the FRAME Lab in 2023.

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