What diabetic grizzlies can tell us about human obesity

 

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In addition to pointing out that diabetes is a natural and temporary condition for grizzlies, the research shows that the dominant theory that human obesity and diabetes go hand-in-hand may need rethinking. Corbit is already thinking about what this could mean for how people are currently treated for the condition. “I worry that giving people insulin over the long-term may end up hurting them,” he says. While injecting insulin in the bloodstream can bring down high blood sugar, it also prevents the breakdown of fat, which leads to cardiovascular problems and other serious medical issues. An alternative treatment for obesity, Corbit thinks, could lie in discovering how exactly grizzlies use the PTEN gene to control their insulin levels.

Ultimately, Corbit wrote in a New York Times op-ed last winter, drug development could take a hint from “millions of years of evolutionary experimentation.” Through unique genetic mutations, animals have evolved in ways to overcome conditions that continue to afflict humans. The new grizzlies research is just one example of how we can learn from them.

“Nature has figured it out,” he says. Now he just needs to find a way to translate thousands of years of evolution into a treatment for obesity. Slumbering grizzlies may have brought Corbit closer than ever.

Wyatt Orme is an editorial intern at High Country News. He tweets @wyatt_orme.

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