Surprising Insights on Diabetes and Obesity

Richard Bergman, PhD

The Inaugural Cedars-Sinai Symposium on Diabetes and Obesity did more than bring together scientists from nearly a dozen top-tier institutions. It also presented some surprising findings about two of the nation's most common maladies.

Studies presented at the Feb. 18-19 event suggested that exercise won't necessarily make you slimmer, antipsychotic drugs may make you fat and gastric-bypass surgery can be used to treat diabetes. The wide-ranging sessions covered innovations in diagnosing and managing diabetes and obesity-related diseases, as well as relevant research. More than 15 speakers, including seven from Cedars-Sinai, presented their work.

"The science and the conversation were outstanding. It was a landmark event for us to celebrate what we've done so far and to look forward to the future," said Richard Bergman, PhD, director of the 5-year-old Cedars-Sinai Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute, which organized the symposium. The event's theme was "Wellness and Translational Science."

About 1 out of 11 people in the U.S. have diabetes, and more than one-third of U.S. adults are considered obese, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One highlight of the symposium was the First Annual Cedars-Sinai Diabetes Obesity and Wellness Research Award, presented to Walter J. Pories, MD. He is the director of the Metabolic Surgery Research Group and professor of surgery, biochemistry and kinesiology in the Department of Surgery at the East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine in Greenville, North Carolina.

The award honored Pories for discovering that gastric-bypass surgery, also known as bariatric or weight-loss surgery, can help normalize blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes, the most prevalent form of the disease. The operation involves reducing the size of the stomach and reconnecting the smaller stomach to bypass part of the small intestine.

"We now realize that the gastrointestinal tract is an enormous player in the pathogenesis of obesity and diabetes. That was not understood 10 years ago," Bergman said.

The brain also plays a role. At the symposium, Marilyn Ader, PhD, associate director of the Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute, presented data indicating that certain antipsychotic drugs, such as olanzapine and risperidone, can cause pronounced weight gain. Once limited to treating severe mental illness, these drugs now are more widely prescribed for a broad range of behavioral disorders, said Ader, an associate professor of biomedical sciences.

Obesity remains difficult to treat, according to several speakers. "There's no magic bullet in this field," said Bergman, professor of biomedical sciences and medicine. "There are many devices out there to treat obesity, but not many have been adopted." Such devices tend to be expensive, hard to use or just not very effective over the long term, he explained.

What about stepping up trips to the gym? According to research data, "It's very clear that exercise by itself does little to help you lose weight, unless it's very intense," Bergman said. "It's good for your health and heart, but it alone will not help you lose weight."

In finding solutions to obesity and diabetes, the Cedars-Sinai Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute has a critical role to play, Bergman said. "We have a clear vision and purpose. Now we have to think about the future. We expect that the institute will expand in new areas — neuroscience and clinical. We want it to become the premier diabetes and obesity research institute, certainly on the West Coast."

For the full list of the speakers and presentations, please click on the PDF link below:

Inaugural Cedars-Sinai Symposium on Diabetes and Obesity Program (PDF)