Professor finds a rat in the war against fat

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    By JULIE DUVALL

    BYU researchers may have some good news for exercise-haters and diabetics.

    Professor Will Winder of the zoology department and his team have been able to artificially activate the fat-burning process in laboratory rats.

    Winder and his team have been studying the effects of a chemical called AICAR on the body. Their research shows the drug can activate an enzyme in the body called AMPK that is normally activated only by exercise.

    Winder’s original intent was just to find more information about how the body processes fat. But the result could eventually help humans burn more fat while they are at rest.

    “Conceivably, you could increase the rate of oxidation in a resting person simply by activating that AMPK, whether it be with this drug or another,” Winder said.

    The research also may have an impact on the fight against diabetes.

    Winder said people with type II diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes, have too much glucose in their blood because of low muscle sensitivity to insulin.

    “We don’t know exactly where the defect is, but the possibility exists that its a defect in this AMPK,” he said. Since AICAR activates AMPK, the chemical could help individuals burn off the extra glucose.

    For these non-insulin dependent diabetics, doctors usually prescribe exercise because muscle contractions function like insulin in the body.

    “There are two pathways to get glucose inside the cell. One is with insulin and one is with muscle contraction,” said Emily Kurth, a graduate student from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, studying physiology, who has been involved with the study.

    Winder and his team are now collaborating with scientists at the Joslin Diabetes Center of Harvard University in an effort to discover how AMPK activation increases glucose usage, he said. This research could be significant because 90 percent of diabetics are non-insulin dependent.

    While the results of this study point to these possible applications, it is just a stepping stone in the research on drugs like AICAR.

    “Understanding the fat oxidation process is a necessary step before we can begin looking for application,” Winder said.

    Winder published his findings in the Journal of American Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism. He also presented his work at the Muscle Research Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, and will present it again to the American Physiology Association in April and to the American College of Sports Medicine in June.

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