Once again, it has been proven that not all fats are bad. This time, the discovery of a new kind of good fat may lead to a new way of treating and even preventing diabetes.

Researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Hospital and the Salk Institute have discovered a lipid molecule that can improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity, opening up a promising new way of dealing with type 2 diabetes.

Called FAHFA or fatty acid hydroxyl fatty acid, the lipid molecule is found in fat cells and other cells in the body, differentiating them from omega-3 fatty acids that are not produced by the body.

Key to the discovery of FAHFAs is an early animal model created by co-senior author Barbara Kahn, MD in the 1990s. The model was initially developed after insulin-resistant humans were observed, showing they have low levels of GLUT-4 (what FAHFA was called before) in fat cells. Researchers back then were surprised after an increase in GLUT-4 levels elevated tolerance to glucose and even protected mice subjects versus diabetes even though they were obese.

Research continued with GLUT-4 and it showed that mice with higher levels of the lipid molecule were able to control their blood sugar and are sensitive to insulin. Kahn then worked with Alan Saghatelian, PhD, co-senior author to the study, to learn more about the actions of GLUT-4.

Mass spectrometry lipodomics helped the researchers quantify lipids to determine if they were present in a tissue or cell. Results uncovered a group of lipids in high levels in the GLUT-4 mice though not in the control litter. However, existing databases for lipids could not identify the group so investigation continued, revealing lipid molecules consisting of hydroxy fatty acids and fatty acids joined by ester bonds. These lipid molecules were FAHFAs.

"The discovery of FAHFAs provides important new insights underlying metabolic and inflammatory diseases, and offers viable new treatment avenues that we hope to be able to test in clinical trials. This is of critical importance as rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes remain at epidemic proportions worldwide," said Kahn.

"These lipids are amazing because they can also reduce inflammation, suggesting that we might discover opportunities for these molecules in inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as diabetes," added Saghatelian.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Harvard Training Program in Nutrition and Metabolism, the Sloan Foundation Fellowship, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund CABS, the Searle Scholars Award, and the JPB Foundation.

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