In a study published today in the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers at Mount Sinai's Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute have uncovered a new biological mechanism which may help reduce the onset of diabetes. The key, scientists have reported, is a protein critical to maintaining healthy levels of blood and oxygen in fat tissues.
Led by Senior Investigator Dr. Andras Nagy and his research team at the Lunenfeld including research associate Dr. Hoon-Ki Sung,the mouse model study sheds light on why fat tissue in obesity may behave abnormally compared to fat tissue under normal weight conditions, and how this understanding can potentially help curb the risk of type 2 diabetes associated with obesity.
In obesity, low blood flow and oxygen in fat tissue cells can impair the ability of cells in the pancreas to produce insulin, which lead to metabolic problems such as high blood sugar. The low levels of blood and oxygen can be improved by increasing the level of a signalling protein called Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF). With this protein, researchers found that the development of type 2 diabetes may be potentially prevented by increasing VEGF levels.
“These findings provide us with new opportunities to slow or prevent progression of diabetes while tackling the increasing problem of obesity,” says Dr. Nagy, Senior Investigator at Mount Sinai’s Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute and also Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Toronto.
“This work h as changed the way we are thinking about how obesity affects our metabolism – in fact, this study opens up a new way of looking at treatment and therapy for obese patients who are at increased risk for diabetes," he adds.
For those patients who are already exhibiting early stage symptoms of the disease, when the pancreas has not yet completely stopped producing insulin, increasing VEGF levels in fat tissue could also potentially reverse a developing disease.
Dr. Nagy and his research team have been studying VEGF's function for over 16 years. Their new findings are the first to show that increasing blood flow in fat tissue may revert early stage diabetes back to healthy conditions.
For this study, Dr. Nagy’s team collaborated with other Lunenfeld scientists including Dr. Tony Pawson and Dr. Lee Adamson, as well as with researchers from the University of Toronto, and Korea’s Yeungnam University and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). The study was funded by the New Frontiers Program Project Grant from the Terry Fox Foundation.