Weighty alarm signals
Not all, but many obese people develop diabetes. The Netherlands Metabolomics Centre tries to reveal who is at risk and who isn’t.
Out of the many thousands of metabolites in our body, Thomas Hankemeier and his colleagues try to find the ones that predict who is at risk for diabetes and who isn’t. “Prevention strategies will be better aimed if we know which obese people are at risk”, says Hankemeier, Professor of Analytical Bioscience at Leiden University and Scientific Director at the Netherlands Metabolomics Centre. He also expects that obese people who know that they are at considerable risk will be more motivated to comply with life style advices or therapies. "There are already some predictive biomarkers discovered in blood, by others, and recently also potential predictive biomarkers by us. But the current knowledge is yet not sufficient to actually support doctors in the clinic in their decisions”, tells Hankemeier. Besides blood samples, the NMC-scientists study urine samples and tissue from bariatric surgery. “The latter tells us more about the role of the different organs.” In cooperation with Hanno Pijl (Leiden University Medical Center) and Ben van Ommen (TNO) they also study the impact of caloric restriction.
Long life lipids
Overweight has become a common problem in Western societies. In The Netherlands, 10 percent of the men and 12 percent of the women are obese (BMI ≥ 30); in the USA more than one third of the adults have serious overweight. Obesity is a major risk factor for diseases such as diabetes type 2 and cardiovascular disorders. In the Netherlands, 12 percent of the people with obesity have diabetes, against 2 percent of people with a normal weight. Why some develop diabetes and others stay healthy is unclear. And some are even healthy at a high age.
Together with professor Eline Slagboom (Leiden University Medical Centre), Hankemeier currently studies the variety and composition of lipid metabolites in families which reach high ages in a healthy condition. “We are comparing lipid patterns from people around 65 years of age of these ‘long-life families’ with their partners. We hope to get some insights in what lipids are associated with good health, first results are promising. Another example of Hankemeier’s running research is a study in Finland among people with diabetes type 1. The Finish patients are followed over a longer period in which some will develop kidney failure, a nasty complication of diabetes. The study must reveal metabolites that predict the complication up front. Hankemeier: “There are preventive medicines, but because of possible side effects, you only want to prescribe these to people who are at high risk.”
By Marga van Zundert