Our body is made up of cells and when they get stressed, chemical imbalance sets in, causing a series of activity that protects the cells. And during this activity, a protein known as Parkin comes to the rescue of mitochondria that generates energy from the cells.

Now a study from Salk Cancer Institute has discovered a direct association between cell stress and Parkin. The same pathway is also linked to type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Senior author Prof. Reuben Shaw said, “Our findings represent the earliest step in Parkin’s alarm response that anyone’s ever found by a long shot. All the other known biochemical events happen at one hour; we’ve now found something that happens within five minutes.”

“Decoding this major step in the way cells dispose of defective mitochondria has implications for a number of diseases,” added Prof. Shaw, who published the study Wednesday in Science Advances.

Prof. Shaw and graduate student Portia Lombardo started searching for proteins associated with certain diseases and screened about 50 different proteins. They were in disbelief when they saw Parkin topping the list.

The findings, however, have a wide range of implications. AMPK, one of the central sensors of the cell’s metabolism, is activated by a tumor suppressor protein called LKB1, which is involved in a number of cancers. It is also activated by a commonly advised type 2 diabetes drug called metformin.

Meanwhile, studies have shown that diabetes patients who take metformin exhibit lower risks of both cancer and aging-related medical conditions. In fact, metformin is being pursued as one of the first-ever “anti-aging” drugs in clinical trials.

Prof. Shaw explained, “The big takeaway for me is that metabolism and changes in the health of your mitochondria are critical in cancer, they’re critical in diabetes, and they’re critical in neurodegenerative diseases.” “Our finding says that a diabetes drug that activates AMPK, which we previously showed can suppress cancer, may also help restore function in patients with neurodegenerative disease,” he added. “That’s because the general mechanisms that underpin the health of the cells in our bodies are way more integrated than anyone could have ever imagined.”