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UT Southwestern researchers develop new model for understanding obesity, diabetes

Through the study of fat storage in nematode worms, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have formulated a new model for understanding the mechanisms of obesity and diabetes in humans.

Their work appears in today's issue of Developmental Cell.

"Obesity and its associated diseases are now among the most important medical conditions in the world," said Dr. Jonathan M. Graff, senior author of the study and associate professor in the Center for Developmental Biology.

"A billion people in the world are overweight, and during the next few decades, it will be one of the major health issues facing mankind. The alarming increase in obesity highlights the critical need to identify genes that are involved in regulating fat-cell development and function," he said.

Approximately 58 million Americans are overweight, and about 300,000 deaths annually are attributable to poor diet and inactivity, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Nearly 70 percent of cardiovascular disease cases are related to obesity.

The American Diabetes Association reports about 17 million people suffer from diabetes, a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. In fact, it was the sixth-leading cause of death listed on U.S. death certificates in 1999.

To understand the genetic processes regulating fat biology, UT Southwestern researchers generated nematode worms (Caenorhabditis elegans) lacking two genes crucial for fat in mammals. Worms deficient in either gene displayed a lipid-depleted phenotype pale, skinny, larval-arrested and lacking fat stores, said Graff.

"Our hypothesis was that the same or related genes would control fat storage in worms and mammals," Graff said. "We took a couple of the genes thought to be among the most important ones that control fat formation in mammals and eliminated their function in the worms. Notably, the worms did not accumulate
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Contact: Scott Maier
scott.maier@utsouthwestern.edu
214-648-3404
UT Southwestern Medical Center
13-Jan-2003


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