Frances Ashcroft – KATP Channels and Neonatal Diabetes: From Molecule to New Therapy and Beyond


Forbes Lecture
“KATP Channels and Neonatal Diabetes: From Molecule to New Therapy and Beyond”

Frances Ashcroft, University of Oxford

Friday, July 21, 2017, 8 – 9pm
Lillie Auditorium
Lectures are free and open to the public.
Livestreaming at

INTRODUCER: Elva Diaz, Associate Professor, Departments of Pharmacology and Medicine, University of California, Davis

Lecture Abstract:

Whether you eat a whole box of chocolates or fast for the day, your pancreatic beta-cells ensure that your blood glucose level remains relatively constant by regulating the amount of insulin they release. Diabetes results when insulin release is inadequate and consequently blood glucose levels chronically rise. ATP-sensitive potassium (KATP) channels play a vitally important role in regulating insulin secretion by coupling cellular energy metabolism to membrane electrical activity. As a result, mutations in KATP channel genes result in either too much or too little insulin release. This lecture will describe how the KATP channel regulates insulin secretion. It will show how an understanding of KATP channel function has enabled many patients born with neonatal diabetes to switch from insulin injections to drug therapy, with considerable improvement in both their clinical condition and quality of life. It will also discuss why some KATP channel mutations cause neurological disorders. Finally, it will show how a mouse model of neonatal diabetes has provided fresh insight into the deleterious effects of high blood glucose on pancreatic beta-cells, a finding that has implications for type 2 diabetes and its therapy.

Frances Ashcroft is Professor of Physiology at the University of Oxford, a Professorial Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford and a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. She also holds a European Research Advanced Investigatorship and a Royal Society/Wolfson Merit Award.

Her research focuses on how changes in blood glucose levels regulate insulin secretion from the pancreas and how this process is impaired in diabetes. She discovered that a protein known as the ATP-sensitive potassium (KATP) channel serves as the molecular link between glucose elevation and insulin secretion. Mutations in KATP channel genes cause a rare inherited form of diabetes (neonatal diabetes), and her work has helped enable patients with this disorder to switch from insulin injections to oral drug therapy. She has written two books for the general reader: Life at the Extremes – the science of survival and The Spark of Life – electricity in the human body.

Frances has won several awards for her work including the Croonian Lecture (Royal Society), the L’Oréal/UNESCO For Women in Science Award (European Laureate), the Albert Renold Prize (European Association for the Study of Diabetes) and the Lewis Thomas Prize for Science Writing (Rockefeller University). In 2015 she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

About the Forbes Lecture:

Since 1959, the Forbes Lecture has been supported by The Grass Foundation, a private foundation that supports research and education in neuroscience. The lectures are given in honor of pioneering neurobiologist Alexander Forbes. Traditionally, the Forbes lecturer also spends several weeks at the MBL, working alongside the Grass Fellowship Program.