March 23 (UPI) -- Researchers have found that inhibiting an enzyme in the liver significantly reduces triglyceride levels in mice.
A team at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York studied how to lower the triglyceride fats that cells use as fuel. Their findinga were published Thursday in the journal Cell Metabolism.
The fats are transported to cells through the bloodstream. When triglyceride levels are high, the particles are forced into cells lining the arteries. These cholesterol-laden plaques lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Normal triglycerides are less than 150 milligrams per deciliter based on a blood test and the most effective treatment is weight loss with healthier eating habits and regular exercise, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Drugs with statins are not effective in lowering triglyceride levels as they are with cholesterol.
Previously, Utpal Pajvan, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, led a team that found that inhibiting the enzyme with certain drugs improves blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, and reduces fat accumulation and inflammation in the liver.
In new study, led by KyeongJin Kim, an associate research scientist at the school, found that inhibiting the enzyme also causes liver cells to pull triglycerides out of the bloodstream.
"We see this data as proof of principle that a drug that inhibits gamma secretase could be used to produce multiple benefits at once," Pajvan said in a news release. "This approach would be especially beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes, who have insulin resistance and high blood sugars but often also have high levels of plasma triglycerides and fatty liver disease."
Drugs that inhibit gamma secretase don't work to treat chronic diseases because they block the enzyme throughout the body and cause severe gastrointestinal side effects.
So, the researchers worked with industry colleagues to develop an "antisense" molecule that preferentially blocks gamma secretase in the liver.
That molecule reduced triglycerides and glucose in the blood without apparent side effects in mice.
Pajvan expects it to take several years before the compound or a similar drug can be tested on humans.
"Many people are looking at new ways to reduce triglycerides and the more possibilities we identify, the greater chance we have of ultimately succeeding," Pajvani said.