The Week That Wasn't: Human Yarn, Diet-Determining Genes, Fasting & Diabetes

Ellie Kincaid

February 07, 2020

You may have recently seen articles about a "human textile," genes that make you more likely to drink coffee or eat yogurt, and research exploring the biology of fasting to reverse type 2 diabetes. Here's why you didn't see them on Medscape. 

Human Cells Can Make Yarn

Researchers from the University of Bordeaux/INSERM Laboratory for the Bioengineering of Tissues in France have developed a way to spin yarn from human cell-assembled extracellular matrix, they report in the journal Acta Biomaterialia . They tested their new biomaterial, which they call a "human textile," to suture a wound and assemble a vascular graft in animals. "This novel strategy holds the promise of a next generation of medical textiles that will be mechanically strong without any foreign scaffolding, and will have the ability to truly integrate into the host's body," they write.

The idea (and the pictures) of human textiles knitted and woven for potential surgical uses are, to use a technical term, very cool. However, these new biomaterials haven't yet been tested in humans to see if they work at all, or are better than surgeons' current options. We need more than a cool proof-of-concept study before alerting our readers about a new technology.

Genes Associated With Eating Habits

After studying genetic data and food-frequency questionnaires from 160,000 people in Japan, researchers identified nine places in the human genome that were associated with the behaviors of drinking coffee, tea, and alcohol and eating yogurt, cheese, fermented soy beans called natto, tofu, fish, vegetables, or meat. They published the results of their genomewide association study in the journal Nature Human Behaviour .

Assuming these associations aren't spurious, the next question is, do they matter? Would a clinician treat a patient differently based on his or her genetic propensity to eat certain foods, or rather on what he or she actually eats and drinks? The clinical implications of this study aren't clear, so we didn't think we needed to spend our readers' time on it.

Fasting-Inspired Diabetes Treatment — in Mice

A protein called TET3 that proliferates during times of fasting plays a key role in controlling hepatic glucose production, and that could have implications for treating type 2 diabetes, according to research published in Nature Communications . While TET3 levels typically decrease after fasting, they remain high in people with type 2 diabetes. Scientists tried different methods of reducing TET3 levels in mice modeling type 2 diabetes and found that this ameliorated their disease, suggesting "potential therapeutic targets," they write.

It's exciting to come to a deeper understanding of a disease that affects many people, especially when the new knowledge points to a potential way of treating it. But scientists haven't actually developed a treatment with this knowledge yet, let alone tested it for safety and effectiveness. It would be premature to report on this for our clinician readers, since they can't apply this knowledge in treating patients.

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