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News

Blood Sugar Search, New method for measuring sugar production in the liver

Austrian Science Fund (FWF) : 28 January, 2002  (Technical Article)
Diabetes results from a permanently increased blood sugar level due to the fact that the pancreas does not produce enough insulin for sugar utilisation. Exact knowledge of sugar production is of special value for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Sponsored by the Austrian Science Fund, Prof. Michael Roden from the Department of Internal Medicine III, University of Vienna, has developed a method which makes it easier to determine glucose production and in particular endogenous glucose production and allows these measurements to be performed on living humans. Animal experiments will thus no longer be necessary for drug testing in the future.
Elevated blood sugar levels result from increased sugar production in the liver, which can be caused in two ways: either the release of an increased amount of sugar (glucose) from its stored form in the liver, i.e. glycogen, or an increase in endogenous glucose production, or gluconeogenesis. Measuring gluconeogenesis in patients is made difficult by a series of problems: 'The conventional methods are either a burden to the patient or they are too expensive. And most do not provide extensive information', explains Roden, who has already received various international awards for his research. Many methods are thus limited to a mere assessment of gluconeogenesis, while the new method will provide detailed information on the metabolic pathways of the glucose.

Fasting and 'black water'
The method for the measurement of gluconeogenesis, which Roden developed in cooperation with the Institute of Pharmaceutical Chemistry of the University of Graz and the University of Cleveland, is on a par with traditional methods and offers a number of additional advantages. 'Participants in our studies had to observe an 18 hour fast. During fasting endogenous glucose production of the liver and kidneys increased in order to supply the body with sugar. During this period the volunteers drank water that had been enriched with deuterium, i.e. heavy, non-radioactive hydrogen. Blood samples allowed us to precisely quantify gluconeogenesis by determining the enrichment of deuterium in all carbon atoms of the blood sugar' explains Roden. This means that patients do not have to go through tissue sampling or other stressful procedures. In a first step the method was successfully tested on healthy volunteers, and soon diabetics will also be examined using the new technique. 'Our method is painless and can be directly used on living humans, which will at least reduce the number of animal experiments now required, e.g., to test the effectiveness of diabetes drugs'.
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