Blocking Inflammation In Diabetes

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a macrophage. Credit: NIAID

Blocking immune cells from producing fat appears to effectively block chronic inflammation and prevent diet induced diabetes

An excess of fat intake has been correlated with increased inflammation and insulin resistance - leading to diabetes onset. With an improved understanding of the importance of rampant inflammation in driving diabetes pathology, researchers have recently been looking at ways of reducing this burden and alleviating disease complications.

"The number of people with diabetes has quadrupled worldwide over the last 20 years. We have made modest progress in making it less likely for some people with diabetes to have heart attacks and strokes. However, those receiving optimal therapy are still much more likely to die from complications driven by chronic inflammation that is, at least in part, generated by these immune cells. But by blocking the production of fat inside these cells, it may be possible to prevent inflammation in people with diabetes and even in other conditions, such as arthritis and cancer, in which chronic inflammation plays a role. This could have a profound impact on health"

Altering fat metabolism

A team from the Washington University School of Medicine has conducted a number of experiments involving blocking fatty acid production in immune cells, and monitoring its effect on diabetes onset and complications. When they produced mice engineered to lack the gene fatty acid synthase (a common gene that plays an important role in fat metabolism), they discovered these mice were protected from diet induced diabetes; failing to develop insulin resistance. Preventing the synthesis of fat internally in macrophage cells appeared to inhibit external communication that normally triggers inflammatory behaviour. 

"An inhibitor of fatty acid synthase actually is now in clinical trials as a potential cancer treatment. And other drugs have been developed to inhibit fatty acid synthase in diabetes, too. One possibility that our work suggests is that altering the lipid content in the cell membrane may help block cancer metastases and complications of diabetes"

A promising new approach

It may be that developing new fatty acid synthase blocking agents could therefore aid pre-diabetic patients and limit the negative effects of diabetes too. They may also have wider use in reducing the inflammatory burden that rises with age. A targeted or temporary approach is likely the only way forward however, as inflammation itself and fat metabolism are still crucial processes. 

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