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Bile Compound Prevents Diabetes in Mice

A chemical prevalent in the bear gallbladder abates a cellular stress response and stalls the progression of type 1 diabetes in rodents.

By | November 14, 2013

WIKIMEDIA, TONY HISGETTIn people with type 1 diabetes, an incurable disease diagnosed early in life, the pancreas is deficient in producing insulin. There's been some idea that stress responses from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in pancreatic beta cells are involved, particularly the unfolded protein response. In Science Translational Medicine this week (November 13), scientists show that tamping down the ER stress response with a compound found in bear bile can slow the development of type 1 diabetes in mice.

“The study is exciting because it suggests that improving ER function before the onset of disease could reduce [type 1 diabetes] incidence,” said lead author Feyza Engin, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, in a press release.

The compound, tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of ailments, and it was often sourced from the bile of bears. “The gallbladder of the bear was one of the most valuable voodoo medicines that people used, especially in China,” Gokhan Hotamisligil, a geneticist at Harvard University School of Public Health and a co-author of the study, told National Geographic. “It almost made the black bear extinct [in China].” Fortunately, if Hotamisligil's idea of using it to treat diabetes in humans takes off, it's possible to get the compound from non-threatened farm animals instead. According to National Geographic, his group purchased the compound from a company that harvests it from livestock.

Correction: The headline and article have been modified to reflect readers' comments that the original language suggested that the study used bear bile. The Scientist regrets the error.

 

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Avatar of: Weifeng

Weifeng

Posts: 3

November 14, 2013

The tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA) used in the original paper was purchased from EMD/Calbiochem and obviously is synthesized. Why farm animals are needed?

Avatar of: Neurona

Neurona

Posts: 33

November 14, 2013

Why farm animals? Maybe because we are already butchering them for their muscle meat, so why not harvest TUDCA from the gall bladders while we're at it. I am not sure however that farm animals (pigs, cows) have the same high concentration of TUDCA in their bile.   That might be a stretch. 

Avatar of: Weifeng

Weifeng

Posts: 3

Replied to a comment from Neurona made on November 14, 2013

November 14, 2013

Quote Neurona

Why farm animals? Maybe because we are already butchering them for their muscle meat, so why not harvest TUDCA from the gall bladders while we're at it. I am not sure however that farm animals (pigs, cows) have the same high concentration of TUDCA in their bile.   That might be a stretch. 

Well, check these out: bears on farm are not like pigs and cows at all!

http://gawker.com/bear-bile-farming-is-even-worse-than-it-sounds-509288473

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/22/world/asia/chinese-bear-bile-farming-draws-charges-of-cruelty.html

Avatar of: Walleye

Walleye

Posts: 1

November 14, 2013

These irresponsible investigators have just signed a death warrant for every remaining bear on earth.  Poaching of wild bear for their gall bladders was already a serious issue.  Money drives this trade, and the "medicinal value"  will destroy natural bear populations just as it has destroyed rhinoceros populations.  Bears will be endlessly pursued for their "proven" therapeutic value in both western and eastern medical practices.  The only bears remaining will be "farmed" or those protected in secure zoos.

Avatar of: Jeff Boatright

Jeff Boatright

Posts: 1

November 14, 2013

 

I think the problem here is that Kerry Grens wanted to add some "zip" to the story, and so highlighted the otherwise-unrelated facts that some types of bears indeed make lots of TUDCA (relative to other mammals) and that bear bile indeed is part of Chinese traditional medicine.    HOWEVER - the actual real work that Kerry Grens is referencing was conducted with synthetic TUDCA, which has nothing to do with harvesting bile from bears in China. Research grade synthetic TUDCA can be purchased from Calbiochem and medical grade TUDCA can be purchased from Prodotti Chimici e Alimentari S.p.A. in Italy.   As to the effect on bear farming, the hope is that as it's shown to be the active constituent in bear bile, SYNTHETIC TUDCA will replace the use of actual bear bile in those dwindling communities that still persist in using it. There has been some movement on this in the TM world, largely due to the efforts of Traffic East Asia and other groups dedicated to ending bear farming and similar activities.
Avatar of: ourman

ourman

Posts: 2

November 14, 2013

Very disappointing that The Scientist has irresponsibly copied the exact same errors from the National Geographic report.  

The tests were not carried out using bear bile - the report, to my knowledge, that this was based on, makes no reference to bears.

These are tests based on slaughterhouse bile in the US. Sadly the damage to those campaigning to end the horrific farming of bears for the bile in China have been dealt a huge blow by seemingly prestigous publications negligently misrepresenting the facts.

Take a look at your headline.  It is 100% inaccurate.  Please have the decency to change it.

Avatar of: tvence

tvence

Posts: 339

November 15, 2013

Weifeng, Neurona, Walleye, Jeff Boatright, and ourman,

Thanks very much for your comments. We have corrected our headline and amended the post to more accurately reflect the study's setup. We apologize for the error.

Tracy Vence
News Editor, The Scientist tvence@the-scientist.com
Avatar of: ourman

ourman

Posts: 2

November 16, 2013

Amends in this article represent progress but if no bears were used in the tests and no bears were mentioned in the press release and the scientists himself has since said:

"It is important to clarify that our work has not used TUDCA which is based on bear bile. In fact, our work should be used as strong evidence against the use of bear bile for any purpose as it would not even be effective from a scientific and medical perspective.  Furthermore, there is absolutely no basis for even considering the use of bear bile as the source for any treatment or procurement of bile acids since many alternative sources that does not involve this cruel approach exist."

...then why is there a picture of a bear here and why are bears even mentioned? This appears to be deliberately irresponsible.  Please remove all mentions of bears that have been shoe horned into this story as a result of slavish copying of inaccuracies in the National Geographic. 

Avatar of: Weifeng

Weifeng

Posts: 3

Replied to a comment from ourman made on November 16, 2013

November 19, 2013

Quote ourman

Amends in this article represent progress but if no bears were used in the tests and no bears were mentioned in the press release and the scientists himself has since said:

"It is important to clarify that our work has not used TUDCA which is based on bear bile. In fact, our work should be used as strong evidence against the use of bear bile for any purpose as it would not even be effective from a scientific and medical perspective.  Furthermore, there is absolutely no basis for even considering the use of bear bile as the source for any treatment or procurement of bile acids since many alternative sources that does not involve this cruel approach exist."

...then why is there a picture of a bear here and why are bears even mentioned? This appears to be deliberately irresponsible.  Please remove all mentions of bears that have been shoe horned into this story as a result of slavish copying of inaccuracies in the National Geographic. 

Totally agree! The highlighted middle paragraph is the essence of the paper and should be the essence to this article too. Use it to replace the following sentence in the article and it would be perfect; or else it is still misleading. Fortunately, if Hotamisligil's idea of using it to treat diabetes in humans takes off, it's possible to get the compound from non-threatened farm animals instead.

 

November 26, 2013

The media’s coverage of this study is predictively – and falsely – overenthusiastic and sensationalizing. Such careless journalism contributes to the difficulty we face moving science forward toward research that can and will predict human response – science that does not use animals.

Putting aside well-documented evidence showing how non-predictive research data from mice is when applied to humans (e.g., a collaborative study by academics, government, and private companies showing less than 50% – essentially the same odds as flipping a coin – of testing in rodents predicts human toxicity (http://1.usa.gov/1fDXWHu), a groundbreaking paper calling mouse models “close to random” in predicting human outcomes (http://bit.ly/1fDY1ew), and others), no words other than condemnation of cruel bear bile extraction or accolades for efforts to end such practice should be uttered in scientifically and ethically responsible journalism.

Read New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) President Dr. Capaldo's full response to this article at http://neavs.org/resources/publication/bear-bile-research-reporting-is-misleading-and-misguided.

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