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Researchers in Boston have identified a new class of "good" fats that they say may offer a promising new direction for type 2 diabetes prevention and treatment.

The new findings, made by a team of scientists from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and the Salk Institute, are described in the October 9 online issue of the journal Cell.

"We were blown away to discover this completely new class of molecules," says senior author Barbara Kahn, MD, a Harvard Medical School professor.

Named fatty acid hydroxyl fatty acids, or FAHFAs, these new molecules are in fat cells as well as other cells throughout the body. They now join a small group of fatty acids known to benefit health, which also include omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.

"Based on their biology, we can add FAHFAs to the small list of beneficial lipids," says co-senior author Alan Saghatelian, PhD, a professor at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif. "These lipids are amazing because they can also reduce inflammation, suggesting that we might discover opportunities for these molecules in inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as diabetes."

Manufactured by humans

Unlike omega-3 fatty acids, which are not made in mammals, FAHFAs are actually produced and broken down inside the human body.

"This important feature gives FAHFAs an advantage in terms of therapeutic development because we can potentially modify the rate of production and breakdown throughout the body," said Kahn. "Because we can measure FAHFA levels in blood, low levels may turn out to be an early marker for the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Consequently, if restoring FAHFA levels in insulin resistant individuals proves to be therapeutic, we may potentially be able to intervene before the development of frank diabetes."

"The discovery of FAHFAs provides important new insights underlying metabolic and inflammatory diseases, and, of critical importance, offers viable new treatment avenues that we hope to be able to test in clinical trials," Kahn said. "This is of critical importance as rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes remain at epidemic proportions worldwide."

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