The role of ketone bodies in diabetic coma

Structure of the lipid membrane

Ketone bodies (acetone, acetoacetic acid, \beta-hydroxybutyric acid) are produced when the liver metabolizes fatty acids. If glucose is scarce, or if insulin levels are low, the brain relies on ketone bodies for energy. In patients with diabetes, a prolonged build up of ketone bodies may trigger a reversible comatose condition. This project explored the hypothesis that the accumulation of  ketone bodies in nerve cell membranes changes their physical properties and that this is the mechanism by which diabetic coma is induced. I used differential scanning calorimetry and monolayer techniques to study changes in the properties of model membrane systems upon addition of ketone bodies.The work was carried out at the Center for Biomembrane Physics under the supervision of Professor Ole G. Mouritsen.

The project was awarded first prize at the Danish Contest for Young Scientists in 2007, and I also received a travel grant to present the work at the Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition.