Dr. Zoe Waller, 28th July 2016.

Dr. Zoe Waller, 28th July 2016.

Dr. Zoe Waller, (on right of photograph) Lecturer in Chemical Biology at UEA.

DNA and diabetes.

Zoe’s research involves the complex study of the genes that influence diabetes, particularly through her screening of new compounds that can react on special DNA structures within the gene with the aim of finding more effective treatments for diabetes.

Zoe started with an explanation about DNA itself of which knowledge has advanced remarkably over recent years and it was only as recently as 2003 that the full human genome was sequenced. The human genome has an amazing 3 billion base pairs in each chain of DNA with the chain arranged in the now well-known double helix. Within these chains there are also what are known as alternative structures and it has recently been discovered that such structures can switch genes on and off.

DNA itself is the blueprint for life and though present in a constant form in every person’s cells it will actually change over a lifetime. It forms RNA that is a shorter-lived working copy and this is used to make the body’s proteins. Since diabetes is 88% genetic with only 12% non-genetic causes, it is thus vital that we better understand the genetics of diabetes.

What is now known is that where DNA folds to form the previously mentioned alternative structures in what are termed "polymorphic regions" of the insulin gene, these structures can for example influence how much insulin is made, thus directly affecting an individual’s diabetes. From this the research is thus looking for compounds that can switch an insulin gene on.

With her present research project nearing completion Zoe is now actively seeking funds for the next stage in the evaluation of those compounds she has found and has yet to find that can change gene expression.

Dr. Elise Wright, her post-doc researcher, supported Zoe and both entered into a lively discussion with the Group and it was obvious that the Group greatly valued both their research and presentation. In wishing them every success with their further work the Group sincerely hoped that in this time of reducing scientific research budgets that their grant applications would be well received.