-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
TUESDAY, Aug. 5, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The ways grizzly bears
deal with hibernation and fluctuating weight might offer valuable
new clues to human obesity and diabetes, new research suggests.
The study authors note that the tissues of obese people with
type 2 diabetes become dangerously insensitive to insulin, the
hormone that helps control the level of sugar in the blood.
However, unlike people, insulin levels in grizzly bears do not
change, the researchers found. Instead, the bears' cells seem to be
able to control their ability to respond to insulin.
In fact, in the fall -- when grizzly bears are most obese --
they are also the most sensitive to insulin, says a team led by Dr.
Kevin Corbit, of the drug maker Amgen, Inc.
According to Corbit's group, this happens because the activity
of a key protein found in fat cells, called PTEN, is shut down.
In fact, weeks into hibernation, grizzly bears develop a
"natural" state of diabetes that is cured when they wake up in the
spring, according to the study, which is published Aug. 5 in the
During hibernation, grizzly bears also store the fuel their
bodies need to survive the winter in fat tissue. In other obese
animals however, fat builds up in the liver and muscles, Corbit's
team pointed out.
The bear findings are "in contrast to the common notion that
obesity leads to diabetes in humans," Corbit said in a journal news
release. In fact, the finding suggests that obesity and diabetes
"may exist naturally on opposite ends of the metabolic spectrum,"
Corbit stressed that these findings have yet to be borne out in
humans. However, "we believe that these and other data do support a
more comprehensive and perhaps holistic approach to caring for
patients with diabetes and/or obesity," he said.
His team believes that the mechanisms that lead to obesity in
some people -- such as lower levels of PTEN -- might also protect
them from diabetes. On the other hand, what leads other people to
develop diabetes might also protect them from becoming obese.
"This more sophisticated understanding of the relationship between diabetes and obesity should enable researchers not only to develop therapies targeting these mechanisms, but also to identify the appropriate patients to whom these therapies should be targeted," Corbit said.
There's more on type 2 diabetes at the
American Diabetes Association.
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