SALT LAKE CITY — An experiment at the University of Utah featuring mice and a little cookie dough is providing new insights on how to prevent Type 2 diabetes in humans.
The study, which was published online in “Science” this month, details a new therapeutic approach that kept mice on a cookie dough diet from developing diabetes.
Researchers fed mice a high-fat and high-sugar diet, comparable to cookie dough. As expected, the mice became obese. They also developed symptoms of metabolic disease, like a fatty liver and resistance to insulin.
However, after deactivating a specific enzyme called DES1, these symptoms disappeared.
Scott Summers works with University of Utah Health and he co-authored the study. He said the high-fat and high-sugar diet didn’t matter when the enzyme was inhibited.
“Their weight didn’t change but the way they handled nutrients did,” said Summers. “The mice were fat but they were happy and healthy.”
Researchers also found that deactivating DES1 before putting mice on the cookie dough diet prevented weight gain and insulin resistance.
Why the experiment worked
Researchers think a decrease in ceramides, a type of fatty lipid, is what led to the dramatic changes. Ceramides promote storage of fat in cells and keep cells from using glucose as energy. Deactivating DES1 lowered the number of ceramides the mice had in their bodies, which stopped their symptoms.
While it is currently unknown whether a similar approach could be used in humans, Summers and co-author David Kelley are optimistic that their findings could lead to a change in how diabetes is prevented.
“This project provides substantial validation that this is a discreet and highly effective point of intervention,” said Kelley.
Kelley and Summers are working on pharmaceuticals that would keep DES1 from functioning in humans. This type of drug could potentially help prevent prediabetes, which affects more than 30 million Americans.
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