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USC scientists launch new probe into diabetes


USC researchers have launched a scientific effort to construct a detailed, virtual 3-D model of the pancreatic beta cell and its components — a global project that aims to one day curb the worldwide rise of diabetes.

Diabetes cases have more than tripled worldwide since 1980, from an estimated 100 million to more than 400 million people, according to the World Health Organization. More than 30 million Americans have the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is particularly prevalent among African Americans.

In a commentary published last week in the journal Cell, co-authors representing the new Pancreatic Beta Cell Consortium at USC announced what they described as a “`call to arms’’ inviting scientists worldwide to join the cause and help model the cell at an atomic scale and whole-cell scale.

The consortium was founded by researchers at the Bridge Institute at USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience. They said they aim to complete the project in five years.

Raymond Stevens, a USC chemist and structural biologist who is the lead author on the paper and a founder of the consortium, said he believes that completion of the whole-cell model is critical for developing the next therapies for diabetes.

“We are converging to solve a difficult problem to solve a structure at multiple scales, from the individual atoms, to the small molecules, to the macromolecule, to the cell,’’ Stevens said.

The effort calls upon an array of experts in biology, chemistry, computational biology, engineering, mathematics and imaging. Stevens said he believes non-scientists such as artists and filmmakers may provide a unique and useful perspective on interpretation of their research.