A "Good Fat" to Battle Diabetes

Researchers have found a new class of molecules that may help protect against diabetes. The molecules are produced in both human and mouse fat.

The investigators, from the Salk Institute and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, found that giving the new fat, or lipid, to mice with the equivalent of Type 2 diabetes lowered their elevated blood sugar.

The findings were published in the journal Cell.

The investigators also found that the newly discovered lipids, known as fatty acid hydroxy fatty acids, or FAHFAs, were lower in humans with early-stage diabetes and were higher in mice that were resistant to diabetes. That suggests that the lipids could be used as a therapy for metabolic disorders in people.

Although lipids can be harmful to health, there are good ones as well, including omega-3 fatty acids and now FAHFAs.

“Based on their biology, we can add FAHFAs to the small list of beneficial lipids,” says Alan Saghatelian, Salk professor in the Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology and one of the senior authors of the work. “These lipids are amazing because they can also reduce inflammation, suggesting that we might discover therapeutic opportunities for these molecules in inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as diabetes.”

The investigators said that FAHFAs weren’t previously noticed because they are present in low levels and are difficult to detect. To do so, they used the latest mass spectrometry technique.

In their study, the investigators discovered both the lowering of blood sugar levels and the increase in insulin levels. They measured the levels in humans as well as mice.
Once they identified FAHFAs as being the lipid that was different between normal mice and these diabetes-resistant mice, they found something else important: when the mice eat FAHFAs, blood sugar levels dropped and insulin levels rose, indicating the potential therapeutic value of FAHFAs.

These combined effects make the therapeutic potential of the lipids tremendous, say the researchers. Aside from existing in low levels within a wide range of vegetables, fruits and other foods, FAHFAs are also–unlike the other known beneficial lipids–produced and broken down inside the body. Potentially, new drugs could target the pathways that make or break down lipids to control FAHFA levels.

“This work may suggest that changes in FAHFA levels are a new mechanism in diabetes that was underappreciated before because these lipids weren’t known,” Saghatelian said. “We hope this work points to novel therapeutics that could boost the body’s own way of managing blood sugar.”

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