Ling Qi Wants to Break the Link between Obesity and Type II Diabetes

By Winter, Metta | Human Ecology, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Ling Qi Wants to Break the Link between Obesity and Type II Diabetes


Winter, Metta, Human Ecology


Obesity and type II diabetes are inextricably linked. Biochemist and geneticist Ling Qi would like to break that connection. Finding just the right gene could do it.

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In Qi's post-doctoral research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Cal., he used techniques with mice including gene knock-out (removing a single gene from the genome) and transgenics (adding a new gene) to study obesity and diabetes. In his research, some of the mice became obese on a Western-diet regimen while others did not. In other cases, some developed diabetes after gaining weight on a Western diet while others did not. The question is: why?

Qi, who joined Human Ecology's faculty in the Division of Nutritional Sciences this past summer, is trying to find the answer. In his own laboratory, he is looking at two aspects that could potentially have great impact on obesity and diabetes: endoplasmic-reticulum (ER) stress response and the inflammation status of fat tissues.

Diabetes occurs when there is a malfunction of certain molecules in the signaling pathway, an event Qi finds fascinating.

"In the case of ER stress response, there's a DNA-binding protein that drives gene expression in cells; it's a key element for cells to respond to environmental cues--in this case to glucose changes," he explains.

Little is known about this protein, so Qi and the members of his lab (two post-doctoral fellows and a technician, who is a recent Cornell undergraduate) are seeking to learn more.

The studies in inflammation status prove promising, because it is now recognized that fat is a lot more than a storage depot for energy; it is an active organ that secretes hormones, many of which affect obesity and insulin sensitivity. In the Science paper he published in 2006 and a manuscript he recently submitted, Qi describes how he demonstrated that altering fat cell function changes obesity and insulin sensitivity. …

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