SLU Scientist Aims to Turn on Hypoglycemia’s Missed Signal
A $150,000 grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust will support
research at Saint Louis University led by scientist Gina Yosten, Ph.D. Yosten’s team
is pursuing solutions for people with diabetes who are at risk of life-threatening
drops in blood sugar known as hypoglycemia.
“This project is focused on a very dangerous complication of type 1 diabetes called
hypoglycemia,” said Yosten, who is assistant professor of pharmacology and physiology
at SLU. “Hypoglycemia is especially risky for those on insulin. If people take a
little too much insulin, their blood sugar drops. This can lead to seizures, coma,
and even death.”
Yosten’s lab studies g protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). GPCRs are the most abundant
receptor family encoded by the human genome and one of the most popular drug targets
for those designing new medicines. Her team focuses on metabolic diseases, and, in
In this study, Yosten’s team is examining a missed signal that can cause those with
type 1 diabetes to develop hypoglycemia.
Normally the pancreas releases a hormone called glucagon, which tells the liver to
start making glucose. However, in type 1 diabetes there is an inability to release
glucagon, which may be the result of a missing or aberrant signaling.
“Usually people with diabetes can sense when they have low glucose, so they can go
eat an orange or a piece of candy to balance out their blood sugar,” said Yosten.
“But, individuals that have been diabetic for longer periods of time can lose their
ability to sense episodes of low blood sugar. Together with their inability to release
glucagon properly, these people are at a very high risk of developing dangerously
low blood sugar that can lead to dangerous and possibly fatal outcomes.”
“Our grant is focused on trying to get the pancreas to release glucagon again in
response to low glucose.”
In previous work, Yosten’s lab discovered neuronostatin, a protein produced in the
pancreas that drives glucagon release.
“Neuronostatin’s release may be impaired in type 1 diabetes,” Yosten said. “If we
can develop a therapeutic drug that mimics neuronostatin, it may protect against hypoglycemia.”
The team’s previous work has been centered on animal models, and this grant will
allow the research to advance to human models.
“Within their work supporting scientific research, the Helmsley Charitable Trust focuses
on funding translational research, and so we are proud to announce that our work will
be done in human pancreas cells,” Yosten said. “We’re also going to be collecting
blood samples from people and evaluating how neuronostatin levels change in response
to low blood-glucose levels.”
Yosten hopes that this work will lead to the development of new therapies to help
those at risk of the dangers of hypoglycemia.
Saint Louis University School of Medicine
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction
of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates
physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health
care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new
cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease,
aging and brain disease, and infectious diseases.
The Helmsley Charitable Trust
The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting
exceptional efforts in the U.S. and around the world in health and select place-based
initiatives. Since beginning active grantmaking in 2008, Helmsley has committed more
than $2 billion for a wide range of charitable purposes. For more information, visit