NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - LSU Health researchers and scientists believe they have found a way to potentially prevent and treat obesity and diabetes.
The discovery came as an accident when researchers were studying the gene, Nischarin, for its other benefits.
Researchers said the gene acts as a tumor suppressor that may inhibit the spread, or metastasis, of breast and other cancers.
But while deleting the gene in lab mice, scientists found it led to mice being smaller, less obese and more glucose tolerant.
"We manipulated a gene so where this gene [Nischarin] is no longer functional in animals," LSU Health's Suresh Alahari said. "In diabetic patients, glucose cannot be tolerated, but in the animals if you do not have this gene, these animals tolerate glucose very well. They are very small in size. Also, we found several genes that regulate the functions of cholesterol and lipids. They're all kind of gone pretty much. They're all inhibited."
Alahari is a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and genetics at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine.
The recent discovery found Nischarin interacts with the gene AMPK that regulates metabolism and the mice without Nischarin showed increased energy and decreased appetites.
"We want to bring this diabetic gene into these animals and see if really we can cure diabetes," Alahari said.
"You think about the past generation, they're living well into their 70s and 80s but we have very overweight-diabetic-liver diseased baby boomers who are not making it," LSU Health's Melinda Sothern said.
Sothern is one of the foremost pediatric obesity researchers in the world.
She called the discovery significant because of its direct link to improved metabolism in lab mice.
"It may actually be what drives it. That's a mechanism. That's a new way to find out how does the fat in your stomach move to your liver and cause diabetes since we don't know," Sothern said. "There's theories out, but we're not sure."
Scientists are currently altering human genes in an effort to find a cure for cancer.
However, Sothern said it is much too early to say if the Nischarin discovery will lead to an obesity cure or a pill one could take.
"We're far away from taking a genetic marker and turning into a magic pill. We are as far as we ever were in my opinion for obesity, specifically obesity and more specifically the kind of obesity that causes diabetes, which is the kind of obesity that alters metabolism," Sothern said.
Alahari and his researchers agree the study has a long way to go before it is clear if Nischarin can lead to smaller waistlines and fewer diabetes cases.
"If you want to go into humans, we have to test it in a bigger size animals," Alahari said. "From mice, we cannot make the jump directly into humans."
LSU researchers said in order to keep this study going more funding is needed.
They said manipulating genes is complex. If scientists simply disable a gene, it could have negative effects on the benefits the gene can provide to the body.