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Fat could hold the key to beating diabetes

"Surprisingly, we have shown this stock of fat, instead of worsening the situation, allows insulin secretion to be restored to near-normal levels."

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By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Despite obesity being linked to Type 2 diabetes, fat could hold the key to slowing down its onset, according to new research.

Scientists have discovered it helps the pancreas adapt to excess sugar - slowing down diabetes development.

Around 4.5 million people in the UK have Type 2 diabetes.

Obesity is the major cause. But it may also be harboring a potential cure, say scientists.

Fat does not aggravate the condition - and actually plays a protective role and could be "rehabilitated" into a therapy, say scientists.

Lab experiments on fat droplets showed they are not static reserves, but dynamic sites of storage and mobilization.

Beta cells that make glucose controlling insulin in the pancreas react to the molecules.

This helps maintain near normal secretion of the hormone.

Lead author Professor Pierre Maechler, of the University of Geneva, said: "This release of fat is not really a problem as long as the body uses it as a source of energy.

"To avoid developing diabetes, it is important to give this beneficial cycle a chance to be active, for example by maintaining regular physical activity."

The findings in Diabetologia offer hope of developing drugs that mimic the biological phenomenon.

It is estimated 415 million people worldwide, a figure set to rise to 642 million by 2040, suffer from the condition.

Sedentary lifestyles and junk food diets alter the function of pancreatic cells - making blood sugar regulation less effective.

It can also lead to serious heart, eye and kidney complications.

In the 1970s, harmful blood fats, or lipids were blamed for destroying the cells.

More recently, excess sugar has also been singled out for damaging them and fuelling diabetes.

But while the culpability of sugar is no longer in doubt, the role of fat in beta cell deterioration remains ambiguous.

The Swiss team found the insulin-producing cells suffered less from excess sugar when they had previously been exposed to it.

It helped them get to the bottom of the cellular mechanisms for the first time.

Prof Maechler said: "To answer this key question, we studied how human and murine beta cells adapt to an excess of sugar and/or fat."

In a series of tests they were exposed to an excess of either, and a combination of the two.

The toxicity of sugar was first confirmed. The beta cells secreted much less insulin than normal.

First author Dr. Lucie Oberhause explained: "When cells are exposed to both too much sugar and too much fat, they store the fat in the form of droplets in anticipation of less prosperous times.

"Surprisingly, we have shown this stock of fat, instead of worsening the situation, allows insulin secretion to be restored to near-normal levels.

"The adaptation of beta cells to certain fats would thus contribute to maintain normal blood sugar levels."

The researchers are now attempting to work out how the released fat stimulates insulin secretion.

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