Bear Blog 2

How do Bears Stay Diabetes Free?

Bears are known for their strange eating and sleeping habits. These lucky animals get to sleep all winter, and when they wake up, all the fat they stored for their hibernation is gone, without any adverse effects on the bear’s body.

It’s possible that bears and their fat hold a secret to keeping diabetes at bay. Researchers have found that it is a protein in the bear’s fat cells that can be shut off, stopping diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

This natural solution to diabetes may lead to a new drug that shuts off the same protein in humans. As people gain weight, their cells become less sensitive to the protein insulin, and insulin levels rise. This leads to a complete insulin resistance, or diabetes.

Drugs for diabetes have not progressed very far because of the difference between mice and humans. The idea to test bears came from Kevin Corbit, a senior scientist at Amgen, who tested six bears in captivity before, during, and after hibernation.

Bears typically gain around a hundred pounds in the fall, in preparation for their long sleep. A weight gain that would give humans diabetes doesn’t affect the bear because of its proteins. The bear does experience a small insulin resistance during hibernation, but it is reversed by the time the sleep is over.

The protein bears have is called PTEN, which, when turned off in the fall, make the cells continue to respond to insulin and store sugar. This helps the bears maximize sugar storage for their hibernation. This discovery could help scientists do the same thing in humans in the future.

PTEN has been looked at before, and it has been noticed that people without a gene for PTEN are less likely to develop cardiovascular or metabolic diseases, but some do develop cancer, and Corbit says that he believes it is a body-wide diminishing of the PTEN protein.

In the future, there might be drugs to turn off this protein, but pharmaceutical companies need to be careful. More evidence is needed to demonstrate humans and bears similarity. Also, since bears use this for gaining weight, these drugs might be solving diabetes but opening people up to obesity and various problems such as joints and bones.

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