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Scientists are researching bears to help answer questions about obesity

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Breanna Deutsch Contributor
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Can we learn diet tricks from Winnie the Pooh?

Gorging on honey is not likely to be the next health fad, but The Wall Street Journal reports that scientists are beginning to study bears as a new strategy in their tireless quest to solve America’s obesity problem.

In a many ways, selecting a bear as a test subject seems like an unusual choice. A 1,000-grizzly bear, for example, eats significantly more than even an American with an especially large appetite: This massive bear can scarf down 58,000 calories of apples, berries and salmon in just one day.

Bears are also experts at putting on weight in a short period of time. The can gain up to 100 pounds in the weeks prior to entering hibernation, but for some reason this rapid weight gain does not have adverse effects on a bear’s health – and that is what interests scientists.

“I want to learn how the grizzly bears work their magic,” Dr. Alexander Kamb, the research executive at Amagen, told the Journal.

Amagen, a drug making company, launched a research project two years ago to study how bears manage to sidestep diabetes, heart attacks and clogged arteries when they pack on the pounds.

Dr. Kamb’s 12 furry test patients roam large grassy pastures in Pullman, Washington. The Washington State University research center is the only one in the world that houses large adult grizzlies.

Most of the bears living in this facility were either born there or were taken from Yellow Stone National Park because they wandered too close to humans.

The Amagen research team says that other test subjects, like mice, have not provided all of the answers to the many questions surrounding obesity. Perhaps, they believe, bears might bring new light to the many questions.

In the next few years, Kamp and his team want to build on what they already know about bears.

Fat samples and blood tests have shown that bears are able to adjust their sensitivity to insulin – the hormone that determines how much of the fat and sugars in food are broken down and stored for energy. We also know that bears react more to insulin when they are trying to put on pounds in preparation for hibernation; however, bears are able to shut off their responsiveness to insulin a few weeks later.

What is stumping scientists is exactly how bears are able to manipulate their reactions to insulin. Dr. Kamp says that he hopes this question will begin to be answered when they start sequencing the grizzly bears’ genome in the coming years.

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Tags : obesity
Breanna Deutsch