Groundbreaking new research from the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio reveals that when levels of the amino acid tyrosine are elevated in the body, the increase stunts development and lifespan in animals — a result that leads researchers to believe that, in humans, the same conditions may lead to the development of diabetes. As a result of this new study, which was published on December 19th in PLOS Genetics, a journal of the Public Library of Science, researchers also believe that the new insights into the onset of diabetes could also direct R&D of novel, more effective diabetes treatments.
Alfred Fisher, M.D., Ph.D., of the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies at the UT Health Science Center, and the senior author of the study, explained that the amino acid tyrosine is found to be elevated in both obese and diabetic patients, and that among those who are obese, these elevated tyrosine levels correlate with a much higher risk of diabetes: “It was unknown whether this was simply a marker of diabetes risk or could be playing a direct role in the disease,” Dr. Fisher said. “Our work suggests that tyrosine has a direct effect.”
In point of fact, the study of tyrosine is not new; researchers have been studying the amino acid for decades. However, this is one of the few studies that have sought to connect tyrosine and diabetes.
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This particular study was not tested in humans, but on worms. However, researchers believe that there is a compelling analogue between the worm study and potential human results: “In both humans and worms, the effect is due to an inhibition of insulin signaling,” Dr. Fisher said. “Interfering with this pathway produces longevity in worms, whereas in people it leads to insulin resistance and an elevated risk of developing diabetes.”
As a result, the next step in proving the findings will be to launch a secondary research effort on human participants: “This will be tested in small human clinical trials,” Dr. Fisher said. “Our team will augment tyrosine levels in study participants for a short period and observe whether this changes the ability of the body to respond to insulin, which is a key hormone involved in controlling blood sugar levels. This will not be detrimental to participants, as the increase will be transient and well below the level of what is clinically relevant.”
About Dr. Alfred Fisher
Dr. Fisher, an associate professor of medicine in the School of Medicine, brings a great deal of experience and expertise to this particular study. He joined the Health Science Center in 2013, transferring from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He earned Ph.D. and M.D. degrees at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, and completed residency and a geriatrics fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. He is also a physician scientist with the Barshop Institute’s Center for Healthy Aging and the Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center of the South Texas Veterans Health Care System. He has studied tyrosine’s effect on insulin signaling in an animal model called C. elegans (roundworms) since 2005.
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