Published: 31-01-2022 08:51 | Updated: 09-03-2023 14:42

Myriam Aouadi receives award for outstanding diabetes research

Photo: Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

KI researcher Myriam Aouadi is awarded the Leif C. Groop award for her research about the mechanisms behind the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in obese individuals with type 2 diabetes.

The Leif C. Groop award for outstanding diabetes research, is awarded annually by Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC) to a young Nordic investigator for scientific excellence that benefits patients suffering from diabetes. Myriam Aouadi, researcher at the Department of Medicine, Huddinge is the recipient of the award 2022. Myriam is awarded for her major contributions in the field of targeted gene silencing and immunometabolism, and receives a prize sum of 100 000 SEK.

Congratulations Myriam! Why is your research important?

I think that this is a great recognition for the work that I am carrying out together with my research team at the Center for Infectious Medicine. In our research, we strive to understand the role of the immune system in liver disease in obese patients with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Obese individuals are at a great risk to develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and there are currently no drugs to treat it. Therefore, an important goal for us is to contribute to the development of new treatments.

What are the key findings in your study?

We are exploring the role of macrophages, which are cells in the immune system that can be found in all organs of the body. The macrophages are well known to defend the body against infectious diseases and can induce inflammation. Based on this they have previously been thought to contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by increasing inflammation of the liver. But we have shown that macrophages play an important role in the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease independently of inflammation.

In two follow up studies, we could show that while macrophages do not become inflammatory, they produce factors, such as a small RNA called miR-144, that can block the antioxidant defense. This was particularly interesting since oxidative stress, a process in which high levels of free radicals can damage cells, is associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The liver left without its defense, is then subjected to the damages of oxidative stress. 

What are the next steps for your research?

We have found that miR-144 is circulating in blood and could potentially be used as a biomarker for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is important because it will allow to detect people that could benefit from targeting this small RNA. Another important aspect we are studying is the diversity of macrophages in liver and in particular how distinct populations of macrophages can harbour specific functions.

We hope that we will be able to develop new treatments for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and other serious liver diseases, by targeting macrophages and for example increasing the antioxidative response. This of great importance as the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is increasing and leads to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in many cases.

The news article is based on a press release from LUDC.