Scientists from the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center (CRCHUM) have discovered a new enzyme, which could be developed as a treatment for obesity and type 2 diabetes. Dubbed glycerol 3-phosphate phosphatase or G3PP, it can zap excess sugar from the body.
The researchers found that the enzyme can stem the toxic effects of sugar to various organs in the body. It also plays a major role in glucose control and fat utilization.
G3PP acts like a detox compound that stops the body from being poisoned by the chemicals produced when the cells are overloaded with sugar.
"When glucose is abnormally elevated in the body, glucose-derived glycerol-3 phosphate reaches excessive levels in cells, and exaggerated glycerol 3 phosphate metabolism can damage various tissues," said Professor Marc Prentki of the University of Montreal and the study's lead investigator.
Prentki added that the study paved the way for the discovery of the enzyme and its ability to break down a great amount of excess glycerol phosphate to glycerol and divert it outside the cell. In turn, the insulin-producing pancreas, along with other organs of the body, are protected from the effects of high glucose levels.
Altering glucose utilization in the cells can cause disturbances in several physiological processes that can put an individual at risk for certain conditions like obesity, cardiovascular illnesses and diabetes (type 2).
Insulin secretion by the beta cells in the pancreas, glucose production in the liver, digestion of nutrients for the production of energy and fat storage in adipose tissues are all governed by glucose utilization.
For instance, beta cells produce insulin, which is very important for blood glucose control. Insulin also plays a central role because this enzyme carries glucose to the different cells for energy production. With little or no insulin to carry the glucose, blood sugar levels spike.
An excess of sugar levels can damage the pancreas, leading to dysfunction and diabetes. Based on the study, by diverting glucose as glycerol, the enzyme averts fat formation and storage. It can lower overproduction of glucose in the liver, which is one of the main problems associated with diabetes.
The researchers are positive that their discovery is a very significant contribution to future treatments for obesity, diabetes and eventually, metabolic syndrome. They are presently in the process of looking for small molecule activators of G3PP. It involves developing a medicine to activate the enzyme.
The study still has a long way to go since it needs confirmation through animal model first, before carrying on developing drugs for human consumption.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Photo: Coralie Ferreira | Flickr