Gary Sweeney joins the race against diabetes

Sir Frederick Banting and Charles Best, the two researchers who discovered a treatment for diabetes, started the race against the disease. But no one has yet completed it. Prof. Gary Sweeney, a biologist in the faculty of Pure and Applied Science, is hoping to get a little closer to the finish line.

Diabetes is still a major health problem in Canada, and the incidence is growing as obesity rises to epidemic proportions. More than two million Canadians have the disease, and the World Health Organization estimates that by 2025 the global number of diabetics will reach an alarming 300 million, many of whom will be juveniles, principally due to increasing obesity.

Below, some areas of the body affected by diabetes

Type 1 diabetes (juvenile-onset diabetes) occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin, and can be treated by insulin administration. However, 90 per cent of diabetes cases are type 2, characterized by resistance to the actions of insulin and an inability of the pancreas to secrete enough insulin to overcome this resistance. More than 80 per cent of obese individuals develop insulin resistance, resulting in type 2 diabetes.

Sweeney is using leading-edge methods to try to ascertain why this is so and find ways to prevent the onset. As well, he is aiming to develop better therapy for the complications associated with diabetes, such as kidney disease, the principal cause of death among diabetics; nerve disease, which frequently results in amputations; retinopathy, leading to blindness; hypertension; heart failure; and stroke.

Employing the latest in proteomics technology, Sweeney’s research program is unique in its use of cultured human cells, animal models and Drosophila flies (better known as fruit flies – pictured right) in genetic research.

What is this technology? It is the study of proteins in a cell and how cells are using genetic information – the next stage of research after the mapping of the human genome.

Sweeney’s work integrates state-of-the-art proteomics technology with cell and molecular biology to understand the association of insulin resistance and obesity at the molecular level. His collaborations with industry, and with researchers in Canada and internationally, are expected to yield results of international significance.

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation recently sent a certificate of congratulations to Sweeney, one of several York faculty members who have received CFI grants during the past year.