Why Winnie the Pooh Could Hold Key to Beating Diabetes


Winnie the Pooh could be the key to fighting diabetes, new research finds. Bears gain enormous weight every year and then hardly move for months.

A high-sugar diet is the main trigger for the metabolic disorder in humans. It is caused by resistance to insulin, a hormone that controls glucose.

Bears can turn it on and off almost like a switch, but scientists have discovered their secret: a specific group of hibernation proteins. Thousands of changes in gene expression have been specifically narrowed down to eight.

Stock image of a grizzly bear
Stock photo of a grizzly bear. Bears gain enormous weight each year before hibernation and then hardly move for months. A high-sugar diet is the main trigger for diabetes in humans, caused by resistance to insulin, a hormone that controls glucose. Bears can turn it on and off almost like a switch, but scientists have discovered their secret: a specific group of hibernation proteins.
binkabonka/Unsplash

A team from Washington State University (WSU) made the discovery by feeding honey, Pu’s favorite food, to wintering bears.

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“There appear to be eight proteins that work either independently or together to modulate the insulin sensitivity and resistance observed in hibernating bears,” said Professor Joanna Kelley, lead author of the study. “All of these eight proteins have human homologues. They are not unique to bears. The same genes are present in humans, so that means there might be a direct way of translation.”

The scientists studied changes in cell cultures exposed to blood serum collected from grizzly bears housed at WSU’s Bear Center.

Samples were collected during the active season and hibernation – including one interrupted by infusing water with honey.

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Various cocktails highlighted the genetic changes. It was serum from the mid-winter feeding period that helped most in identifying the important proteins.

“By feeding the bears for just two weeks during hibernation, we were able to control other things like day length and temperature, as well as food availability,” Kelley said.

Bears usually get up and move around a bit during hibernation, but do not eat, urinate, or defecate.

Waking moments were used to offer them the treat. It was also found that the extra sugar disrupted hibernation behavior – enabling the first study of its kind. When the serum was added to a cell culture taken regularly from wintering bears, they began to show changes in gene activity that resembled those seen during an active season.

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Kelley and colleagues plan to study how the proteins work to reverse insulin resistance.

The findings could ultimately lead to the development of therapies that prevent or even cure diabetes.

“This is a step forward towards better understanding what happens at the genetic level and identifying specific molecules that control insulin resistance in bears,” said co-first author Dr. Blair Perry from WSU.

Honey being poured into stock image
Stock image of honey. A team from Washington State University has been studying hibernating bears to study how proteins reverse insulin resistance. The findings could ultimately lead to the development of therapies that prevent or even cure diabetes.
Pixabay

Tools for understanding genetics are becoming more sophisticated. Researchers recently mapped the complete DNA of brown bears, which includes grizzlies.

The updated genome could help provide even better insights into bear genetics, including how they manage hibernation.

Perry, who also worked out the genetic make-up of snake venom, said: “There is inherent value in studying the diversity of life around us and all these unique and strange adaptations that have arisen.”

“By understanding the genomic basis of these adaptations, we gain a better understanding of what we share with other species and what makes us unique as humans,” Perry said.

The study in iscience is possibly priceless – for diabetics.

Produced in collaboration with SWNS talker.

This story was provided by Newsweek Zenger News.



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