New research has determined that fat cells help the pancreas to secrete insulin.
Insulin resistance is associated with type 2 diabetes, so it is hoped that the discovery will lead to new treatment avenues.
In an animal study, scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis found that fat cells release a protein that causes pancreatic beta cells to increase their production of insulin.
The protein, an enzyme called Nampt (NMN), is produced by the pancreatic cells themselves in small amounts.
Senior author Dr Shin-ichiro Imai warned there could be limits to the extent pancreatic function can be enhanced. "It may be that in some obese individuals a threshold has been reached so that this mechanism no longer provides adequate compensation," he said.
"But there may be ways to overcome this threshold."
Dr Imai and his team are collaborating with clinical researchers to find out how much NMN is in the blood of normal and diabetic or obese patients, with a view to initiating clinical trials to test NMN as a therapeutic agent.
The study is published in today's issue of 'Cell Metabolism'.
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