Low Blood Sugar, and the Hope to Save Lives

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Candace Reno, Ph.D., is studying hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and the mechanisms by which it can be lethal.

When she’s not in the lab, Candace Reno, Ph.D., likes diving with sharks—in an aquarium. That’s because she’s at the University of Utah—more than 500 miles away from the nearest ocean—where she’s doing her postdoctoral fellowship. Dr. Reno is studying type 1 diabetes (T1D). Specifically, she wants to know why low blood sugar—called hypoglycemia—leads to abnormal heart rhythms and—in severe cases—death. “Approximately 40 percent of people with type 1 diabetes have episodes of severe low blood sugar,” says Dr. Reno. “Therefore, it’s critically important to understand the ways in which hypoglycemia induces death, and to find treatments that protect people at risk.”

How low blood sugar causes sudden death is not well understood. Dr. Reno, though, has a model that mimics the effects of low blood sugar in people—including an elevation in hormones associated with low blood sugar, a prolongation of the heart’s electrical cycle, and an abnormal heart rhythm—thus enabling her to study hypoglycemia in real time. She is going to test beta blockers—which block the effects of adrenaline and are given to people with high blood pressure to prevent a heart attack—to prevent cardiac arrhythmias. “If the results prove successful,” she says, “this could lead to new screening strategies to identify individuals at risk and alter their treatments. In short, it could be a life-changer for people with T1D.”

Thanks to a JDRF Advanced Postdoctoral Fellowship, she has the funding to do just that. Learn more about JDRF’s grantees and how you can support their work to make the future T1D free.