Scientists Identify Key Diabetes Enzyme

The disease diabetes mellitus results from the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin for the body. In the most common form of diabetes (Type II), this lack of insulin can start from diet rich is in fatty foods that may cause a person to become overweight to a point where the beta cells in the pancreas can no longer function correctly. Fortunately, scientists have figured out what causes the majority of the damage to the beta cells on a molecular level. Scientists have put the blame on the enzyme 12-LO . In a high-fat diet, this enzyme makes an abundance of a harmful molecule called HETEs, which is short for hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid.

So why are enzymes important? In general, enzymes can speed up a chemical reaction. Substrates bind to their specific enzyme at the active site and a new product is formed. For a quick review, check out our video to visually see how enzymes do their job. 

HETE’s are harmful because they cause oxidative damage to the organelles within a cell, which in this case are the mitochondria of the pancreatic cells. Mitochondria are involved in a the process of cellular respiration, or the conversion of organic molecules to the energy currency of the cell. Without the mitochondria working correctly, the pancreatic cells lack energy, causing them to be unable to make the insulin that the body needs. Knowing that the enzymatic actions of 12-LO can give HETE’s the boost they need to harm the mitochondria of pancreatic cells allows scientists to work on creating drugs to fight that specific enzyme.

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 images (thumbnail): By BruceBlaus (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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