Unsaturated fat breakdown leads to complications of acute pancreatitis in obese patients

November 2, 2011, University of Pittsburgh

The toxic byproducts produced by the breakdown of unsaturated fats lead to a higher likelihood of severe inflammation, cell death and multi-system organ failure among acute pancreatitis patients who are obese, say researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Their findings, published online today in Science Translational Medicine, provide new insight into how fat can induce complications after sudden inflammatory, non-infectious illnesses.

Doctors have observed that obese people are at greater risk for adverse outcomes after trauma, , critical illnesses and acute pancreatitis, which is an inflammatory condition of the pancreas typically brought on by gallstones and alcohol, said senior author and UPMC gastroenterologist Vijay Singh, M.D., assistant professor, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Pitt School of Medicine.

"The mortality rate among patients with severe acute pancreatitis is 40 to 50 percent when and respiratory failure develop," he said. "Our findings indicate that the breakdown of unsaturated fat in acute inflammatory conditions can lead to tissue damage throughout the body."

Dr. Singh's team examined pancreas tissue from 24 patients who died with acute pancreatitis and compared them to 50 people who died of other causes. They found that the diseased pancreases of patients who were obese, meaning a equal to or greater than 30, contained more , and confirmed the presence of fat from CT imaging scans from the patients taken before their deaths. Autopsy tissue showed also that there was more pancreatic cell death in the areas around fat cell destruction.

Pancreatic fluids from six obese patients with severe acute pancreatitis who had surgical procedures to remove dead tissue revealed high amounts of unsaturated fatty acids, produced from the breakdown of unsaturated fat, than . When the researchers combined healthy pancreatic cells with the unsaturated fatty acids in a test tube, the died.

Then, they induced pancreatitis in obese mice and found that like the human patients, they had high amounts of fat in their pancreases. The fat in obese mice was mostly unsaturated. Kidneys of the mice with pancreatitis were damaged and contained fat deposits, an unexpected finding supported by studies in human autopsy tissue. Infusing unsaturated fatty acids into the bloodstream of the animals leads to lung injury akin to the problems seen in human patients, while administration of saturated fatty acids does not.

"Now that we better understand why these complications arise, we might be able to prevent them and reduce deaths," Dr. Singh said. "We must find ways to stop this toxic process from happening."

He and his team are studying ways to prevent the generation of unsaturated fatty acids in obese rodents to see what happens when they develop acute pancreatitis.

Explore further: Fatty acid test: Why some harm health, but others help

Related Stories

Fatty acid test: Why some harm health, but others help

September 29, 2011
A major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and other health- and life-threatening conditions, obesity is epidemic in the United States and other developed nations where it's fueled in large part by excessive ...

Study helps clarify link between high-fat diet and type 2 diabetes

April 11, 2011
A diet high in saturated fat is a key contributor to type 2 diabetes, a major health threat worldwide. Several decades ago scientists noticed that people with type 2 diabetes have overly active immune responses, leaving their ...

Recommended for you

Could vitamin B3 treat acute kidney injury?

August 20, 2018
Acute kidney injury, an often fatal condition without a specific treatment, affects up to 10 percent of all hospitalized adults in the United States and 30-40 percent in low-income countries. The condition causes a build-up ...

New assay to detect genetic abnormalities in sarcomas outperforms conventional techniques

August 20, 2018
Sarcomas are rare tumors that are often misdiagnosed. Specific recurrent chromosomal rearrangements, known as translocations, can serve as essential diagnostic markers and are found in about 20 percent of sarcomas. Identification ...

Team develops new way to grow blood vessels

August 17, 2018
Formation of new blood vessels, a process also known as angiogenesis, is one of the major clinical challenges in wound healing and tissue implants. To address this issue, researchers from Texas A&M University have developed ...

New imaging technique can spot tuberculosis infection in an hour

August 16, 2018
Guided by glowing bacteria, researchers have devised an imaging technique that can diagnose live tuberculosis in an hour and help monitor the efficacy of treatments. That's particularly critical because many TB strains have ...

Obesity, infertility and oxidative stress in mouse egg cells

August 16, 2018
Excessive body fat is associated with negative effects on female fertility and pregnancy. In mice, maternal obesity impairs proper development of egg precursor cells called oocytes. In a recent paper published in Molecular ...

Research shows it's possible to reverse damage caused by aging cells

August 15, 2018
What's the secret to aging well? University of Minnesota Medical School researchers have answered it- on a cellular level.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.