Jan 292003
Authors: Bryce Chapman

Innovative research by CSU biochemists has brought a cure to the fifth most fatal disease in the United States closer to reality.

Researchers have long speculated that an excessive saturated fat diet, along with a sedentary lifestyle, contributes greatly to type 2 diabetes.

However, years of such speculation may now be replaced by certainty, thanks in part to a study performed by CSU researchers.

Type 2 diabetes is caused when the body either does not produce enough of a hormone called insulin, which is used to convert sugar and starches into energy, or when cells ignore the insulin. The ailment affects approximately 16 million Americans, 5.9 percent of the U.S. population.

The team of 12 identified a single fat byproduct known as ceramide to play a large role in cells becoming resistant to insulin.

“This study showed that when we used drugs to block ceramide it could allow insulin to effectively work,” said Scott Summers, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and principal investigator of the study.

As nearly 80 percent of type 2 diabetics are obese, this finding gives credible evidence to the notion that a prolonged fatty diet does contribute to the disease.

Once specific fats are released into the bloodstream they are converted into ceramide, Summers explained.

However, many times excessive amounts of ceramide accumulate after the specific fats are released, mainly after a fatty saturated meal has been consumed.

Although the study’s results are encouraging, further research is needed before the findings are conclusive.

“These findings were obtained at the molecular levels in tissue culture cells,” said Jose Antonio Chavez, doctoral candidate on Summers’ research team and lead author of the studies results. The study is expected to be published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry in April.

The team has now begun the next stage of research: studying the effects of excessive ceramide in diabetic rodents.

If the results remain consistent in living species, significant improvements in type 2 diabetics’ lives could be in store.

“If the same for ceramide is proven in rodent models, we can then begin developing medications or forms of gene therapy to prevent ceramide accumulation in tissue cells and potentially eliminate the need for many diabetics to take insulin,” Summers said in a press release.

Long-time diabetics welcome the prospect of this possibility.

“For years doctors could only treat the symptoms, but this sounds like they will be able to treat the disease,” said Arlene Moore, a type 2 diabetic from Windsor. “It is so exciting; we’re finally going in the right direction.”

Moore has been forced to inject insulin three times a day for the last 20 years.

Once considered a disease diagnosed in mid-to-late life, cases of type 2 diabetes in young adults have rapidly increased.

In some countries, an increasingly less active society and unhealthy eating habits have made type 2 diabetes more prevalent in teenagers than type 1 diabetes, a disease formerly known as juvenile diabetes, Summers said.

Although the United States has not yet surpassed that threshold, up to 45 percent of all new children diabetics are type 2, according to the American Diabetes Association’s website.

The team’s findings could allow physicians to treat young adults with the disease early in life before irreversible symptoms begin.

“I can’t believe this disease has begun to effect people younger than me,” said Breezy Lens, a senior apparel and merchandising major. “Effective research is long overdue.”

Although many aspects of this disease remain a mystery, researchers are hopeful that someday type 2 diabetes will no longer exist.

“A lot of people are trying to make a cure a reality,” Summers said. “I am optimistic and hopeful.”

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