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Davis Lab study sheds light on complications from high blood glucose and excess body fat which lead to type 2 diabetes

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Myoung Sook Han, PhD and Roger J. Davis, PhD, FRS

A study at the University of Massachusetts Program in Molecular Medicine and Diabetes Center of Excellence is working towards a better understanding of what causes metabolic syndrome. Chronic low-grade inflammation is a key driver of metabolic syndrome. Research in the Davis Lab seeks to understand on a cellular level, what causes this inflammatory response. The laboratory of Roger J. Davis, PhD, FRS, studies specific immune cells and proteins and their effect on metabolism, inflammation and obesity.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that when combined raise the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other serious health problems. Contributing factors include high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, increased blood pressure as well as abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. Nearly a quarter of adults in the United States are affected by metabolic syndrome according to the American Heart Association. The underlying causes include obesity, being overweight, lack of physical activity, genetic factors and simply getting older. Healthy lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, managing stress and quitting smoking are key to preventing and treating metabolic syndrome, but sometimes medication is also necessary.  

In a study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Myoung Sook Han, PhD, tested the role of specific cells using a mouse model with conditional expression of a specific hormone protein called interleukin 6 (IL6). IL6 is already known to regulate multiple aspects of metabolism. “Inflammation is a major factor in the development of many chronic diseases including diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” said Dr. Han. “It’s a key driver of metabolic syndrome and it’s important for us to better understand it, so we can develop potential therapies.”

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New data from her research shows the role of IL6 in adipose tissue inflammation depends upon the cell source of IL6 secretion and plays a major role in the physiological regulation of metabolism. “We know that obesity induces an inflammation in the adipose tissue [fat tissue] and also causes insulin resistance,” she said. “It wasn’t clear which cell types in that fat tissue were producing IL6 to bring about inflammation."

New data obtained from this study will propel scientists closer to creating cell-based therapies to treat people living with metabolic syndrome or any of its associated chronic health issues.   

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