New breakthrough could help stop onset of diabetes

Researchers have discovered a new biological mechanism that may help reduce the onset of diabetes, a disease that is prevalent among more than nine million Canadians, and is prevalent among people of Caribbean origin.

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, approximately 10 per cent of people with diabetes have type 1 and the number with type 2 is increasing due to a number is factors including rising rate of obesity, aging population and almost 80 per cent of new Canadians come from populations that are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes. These include people of Aboriginal, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian or African descent.

In a study published Tuesday in the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers at Mount Sinai’s Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute have uncovered the new biological mechanism; 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, 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. For those 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 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.

“These findings provide us with new opportunities to slow or prevent progression of diabetes while tackling the increasing problem of obesity,” says Dr. Nagy, who is also Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Toronto.

“Our findings have 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.

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.