Sugar sensor research could benefit diabetes

Research at the University of Liverpool that identified an intestinal sensor that can ‘taste’ sugar content in the diet, could open new avenues for the treatment of diabetes and obesity.

Professor Soraya Shirazi-Beechey, from the Faculty of Veterinary Science, found that the sweet taste receptor that senses sugar and artificial sweeteners is not only present in the tongue, but also in the intestine. The discovery also suggests reasons for why artificially sweetened foods and beverages sometimes fail to result in weight loss.

The research has now been developed into an exhibition at the internationally renowned Food Museum in Switzerland. The exhibition, called ‘Research and Food – a Dialogue’, looks at food history, science and technologies and demonstrates how food affects the body’s growth and development. 

Professor Shirazi-Beechey’s work on the ‘intestinal sugar sensor’ is illustrated by a life-size model of intestinal villi and a short film that shows the journey that nutrients take through the gut.  The film of the research was also selected for the 3D film festival in Pantin, France.

The exhibition explains how a sweet taste receptor, present in the taste cells of the gut, allows humans and animals to detect glucose within the intestine.  The research shows how the receptor detects artificial sweeteners in foods and drinks, resulting in increased intestinal intake of dietary sugars.  This could explain why artificial sweeteners are unsuccessful at helping people lose weight.

Professor Shirazi-Beechey said: “At a time when we are addressing issues such as obesity and associated disorders such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers, it is increasingly important that we understand the impact food and drink has on our body and how our changing lifestyles and environments have affected the way we think about diet and health.  The exhibition, which includes demonstrations in the museums laboratory, is a fantastic way of engaging with people of all ages and explaining the science behind our relationship with food.” 

Dr Esther Schí¤rer, Project Manager of the Alimentarium, said: “We wanted to make research into food, health and diet more accessible to the general public, and bring together experts from disciplines in medicine, biology, chemistry, history, sociology and archaeology to explain how food influences our lives.  Through laboratory experiments, interactive programmes and films, we hope to demonstrate that food research is important in understanding current and future health challenges.”

The exhibition at the Alimentarium can be seen now until the 3 January 2010. 


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