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Chemist and VP-research, Mario Pinto, and doctoral student Sankar Mohan examine a mug fashioned from of a Sri Lankan tree root that was traditionally used to brew a tea to control blood sugar levels. The pair has isolated a compound in the root that could be used to help treat diet-induced degenerative disorders such as obesity and Type II diabetes. Photo by: Mario Bartel, Burnaby Newsleader

Future diabetes remedy?

June 24, 2010

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New research by a team of Canadian scientists including SFU chemist Mario Pinto suggests that controlling diet-induced degenerative disorders such as Type II Diabetes and obesity could one day be as easy as sprinkling a dietary supplement on your food.

Pinto and his doctoral student Sankar Mohan are among six researchers who have just mapped the molecular structure of sucrase-isomaltase, one of four enzymes in the intestinal lining responsible for converting starch from food into glucose.

The team mapped another of the starch-digesting enzymes, maltase-glucoamylase, five months ago and can now compare the two. Glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream and either converted to energy or fat, depending on the rate of conversion, which is tied to genetics, diet, lifestyle and microbial flora in the gut.

Too much glucose upsets a critical balance and increases the body’s fat storage rate, a condition that has led to 180 million people developing diabetes worldwide—a number that’s expected to double by 2030.

Pinto, SFU’s VP-research, belongs to an international consortium that is analyzing how the activities of starch-digesting enzymes, known as intestinal glucosidases, occur in concert and might be altered to control diet-induced degenerative disorders.

"We have two more enzyme activities to characterize," says Pinto, who credits Mohan with synthesizing enzyme inhibitors that were used to characterize the glucosidases.

"We’ve created three-dimensional structural models of the glucosidases that have led to the design of new molecules that can selectively turn the glucosidases on and off.

"One day, these inhibitors could be sprinkled on to food in a powder form to control starch digestion."

Mohan—who along with SFU postdoctoral fellow Jayakanthan Kumarasamy identified structures in a Sri Lankan plant that inhibit glucosidases—is testing the effectiveness of various iterations of the structures in regulating glucosidases.

The research team’s findings were published in the June 4 online issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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