Possible target for treating diabetes, obesity identified in study

SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 8, 2009) — Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have for the first time identified a protein that regulates the creation of a key hormone in fat tissue, a discovery that could have implications for the treatment of diabetes, obesity and possibly even aging.

Using drugs, researchers were able to both raise and lower expression of the protein in mice and humans, making it a potential target for therapeutic treatment.

The study was chosen as the cover story of the Nov. 25 print edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A commentary in the same issue called the study “elegant” and said it convincingly demonstrated the role of the protein.

“They only select something that’s high impact in the field,” Feng Liu, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator and a professor of pharmacology at the Health Science Center, said of the honors.

The study focused on the hormone adiponectin, which is produced in fat tissue and secreted into the bloodstream. The high-molecular-weight form of adiponectin, which forms when 18 to 36 smaller molecules bond together, regulates energy expenditure and protects against insulin resistance, which is associated with type 2 diabetes.

Working with a team of researchers in San Antonio and Hong Kong, Dr. Liu identified a protein that regulates the formation of the high-molecular-weight form of adiponectin.

Low levels of the protein are linked to obesity in human and animal models, while high levels seem to protect against insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The researchers even found that raising levels of the protein improves the function of mitochondria, which supply energy to cells. Improved mitochondrial function could stave off some of the effects of aging. “I think that’s a new direction we could go,” said Dr. Liu, who also is on the faculty of the Health Science Center’s Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $668 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $16.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $36 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 24,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and other health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit www.uthscsa.edu.

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