Scientists are offering new hope for those living with diabetes and obesity
. A brain protein called nesfatin-1 could help millions of obese or diabetic individuals keep both their blood glucose levels and appetites under control.
Currently, researchers are exploring the protein’s metabolic effects through studies on laboratory rats. They found those that received doses of nesfatin-1 not only consumed less food, but they also burned more fat stores and increased their activity level. Suraj Unniappan, associate professor in York’s Department of Biology, Faculty of Science and Engineering says, “The rats actually ate more frequently but in lesser amounts. In addition they were more active and we found that their fatty acid oxidization was increased. In other words, the energy reserve being preferably used during nesfatin-1 treatment was fat
. This suggests more fat loss, which could eventually result in body weight loss.”A protein that functions as both an appetite suppressant and insulin secretion stimulator.
Prior studies involving the protein revealed that when nesfatin-1 was injected into the brains of rats, it functioned as an appetite suppressant and also had the ability to regulate body fat production. However, Unniappan’s new research suggests that the protein also stimulates insulin secretion
from the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas. These islets are actually clusters of cells that manufacture many crucial hormones, including insulin, which is the chief glucose-lowering hormone in the body.
The research team also found similar results with mice. In this study, the protein not only stimulated insulin secretion, but also showed that nesfatin-1 levels were lowered in the islets of type-1 diabetic mice and increased in mice that had type-2 diabetes. This is significant because in type-1 diabetes
the pancreas fails to produce insulin because of pancreatic cell destruction. However, in type-2 diabetes
, insulin resistance develops which often leads to obesity.The gut-brain axis.
Uniappan’s research delves into a phenomena know as the “gut-brain axis.” This refers to the effects of metabolic hormones as well as gut and brain-derived hormones that regulate appetite in fish and mammals. “While the brain is involved in many factors that regulate our energy balance, the gut is also responsible for many neural and endocrine signals responsible for regulating hunger, satiety and blood sugar levels. A major question we’re trying to address is how these peptides act and interact with other peptides in the endocrine network – which is so complex – in order to maintain steady blood glucose levels and body weight,” Unniappan states.
Another hormone-based drug?
Most importantly, fully understanding the gut-brain axis could lead to potential pharmaceutical developments to treat both obesity and diabetes. These treatments would be hormone-based and aimed at keeping body weight and blood sugar levels down. While this sounds like great news for those suffering with diabetes and obesity, no doubt some will wonder if we really need another dangerous hormone-based drug. The problem is that alternative therapies such as chromium, magnesium, and vanadium are rarely recommended by doctors as a way to improve diabetes control.
For now, traditional treatments for metabolic diseases will prevail. “New hormone-based treatments that would suppress body weight and blood sugar would be very desirable. However, we are far from developing nsfatin-1 as a candidate molecule. Our current research focuses on further exploring the therapeutic potential of nesfatin-1 in metabolic diseases with debilitating complications,” states Unniappan.