Obesity research may lead to a way to prevent diabetes, heart disease

Story Date: Fri, 09 Aug 2013 00:00:00 EDT

EVMS scientists have uncovered tantalizing evidence that reveals how obesity contributes to insulin resistance and, possibly, the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The discovery, published online Aug. 12 in the journal Diabetes, provides new data to support the contention that inflammation in fat triggers insulin resistance in people who are overweight. The research may lead to a way to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

The multidisciplinary EVMS research team demonstrated that an “inflammatory pathway” in cells of the immune system also plays a role in the metabolic response of fat cells and contributes to insulin resistance in obesity, says Anca Dobrian, PhD, Associate Professor of Physiological Sciences and lead author on the paper.

“Our data suggests that targeting this inflammatory pathway could be a new approach to limit inflammation in obesity and possibly prevent development of type 2 diabetes," says Dr. Dobrian.

The findings are exciting in that they identify a gene linked to the development of the inflammatory effects of high fat diet and obesity, according to Jerry L. Nadler, MD, Director of the EVMS Strelitz Diabetes Center and principal investigator on a $1.8 million NIH grant that supported the research. The research is a team approach with Dr Anca Dobrian and Elena Galkina, PhD, Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Cell Biology as co-investigators on the NIH project The study lays out the laboratory findings from studies in mice.

“Deletion of the gene called STAT4 did not prevent the mice from getting obese but almost completely prevented the inflammatory consequences of the high fat diet,” Dr. Nadler says. “The mice remained insulin sensitive with normal blood sugar despite eating the high fat diet. The results suggest a potential new target for treatment to prevent the damaging inflammatory actions of high fat diets.”

Obesity — now at epidemic levels in the United Sates — represents a major public-health challenge for the nation. The risk of having a heart attack triples during obesity. Nearly 80 percent of people who develop type 2 diabetes (often as a result of obesity) also develop heart disease.

Dr. Nadler, who also is Professor and Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine and the Harry H. Mansbach Chair in Internal Medicine, is leading a team of scientists on the research. Dr. Dobrian and Elena Galkina, PhD, Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Cell Biology are coinvestigators on the NIH project.

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