New Hormone May Change the Way Physicians Treat Diabetes

Ava Lawson | May 14th, 2013

treatment for diabetesMetabolic diseases such as Type II diabetes affect some 26 million Americans, and are linked to increased risk for severe health issues including heart disease and stroke.

New research conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPS) may provide further treatment options for diabetes sufferers, as scientists have identified a hormone that controls how blood sugars are used by the body. The findings are published in the May 13 edition of the journal, Cell Metabolism. The research team discovered that when this hormone – a type of protein within the body’s fat cells – is “turned off,” the body can more efficiently regulate glucose production by the liver.

Lead author of the study, Haiming Cao, said “The consequences of this discovery are profound, and the potential therapeutic applications by switching this protein off have the capability to reshape the way physicians treat diabetes.”

Novel aP2 hormone plays role in treatment for diabetes

Often associated with obesity, Type 2 diabetes results from insulin resistance when the pancreas and liver produce unregulated amounts of insulin and glucose, leaving patients with dangerously high blood sugar levels. Most cases of diabetes involve impaired insulin function in the body. For years, the medical community has been trying to grasp why severe obesity or insulin resistance in patients doesn’t always result in Type 2 diabetes, causing many to theorize that other factors were involved in glucose metabolism within the liver.

“Although it has long been recognized that a key event leading to development of type 2 diabetes is uncontrolled glucose production from the liver, underlying mechanisms have been elusive,” commented Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, genetics and metabolism professor at HSPH. He added, “We now have identified aP2 as a novel hormone released from fat cells that controls this critical function.”

During the research, scientists raised levels of aP2 in healthy mice to mimic the high hormone levels observed in obese mice and humans to induce impaired glucose metabolism. They then lowered the aP2 levels in diabetic and obese mice to healthy levels, and the resulted intervention restored normal production of glucose within the liver. The team determined that the aP2 blood hormone was a key indicator for metabolic diseases such as diabetes, potentially opening new doors for the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

“It was surprising to find that a critical hormone playing a pathological role in diabetes turned out to be the secreted form of aP2, which for decades has been considered a protein that resides inside the fat cells,” said Hotamisligil. The aP2 hormone was already known as a molecule that transports fat out of adipose cells, but these new findings regarding the protein’s function may lead to better treatment for diabetes patients.

Type 2 diabetes and long-term health complications

At present, most diabetics attempt to control their blood sugar levels by adopting healthy eating patterns, remaining physically active, and trying to achieve a normal weight. Insulin injections and prescription medications are often required in more severe cases.  Long-term complications linked to the disease include circulatory problems, nerve damage, diabetic retinopathy leading to vision loss, and kidney failure. With new research on the prevention and treatment of Type 2 diabetes, patients may now have more effective options for controlling the disease.


  1. Medical Express, Discovery of new hormone opens doors to new type 2 diabetes treatments, http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-05-discovery-hormone-doors-diabetes-treatments.html