Solving the Puzzle of Obesity and Diabetes
Renata Belfort De Aguiar, MD, PhD, is intrigued by the complex relationship between hormones and metabolism. Her desire to understand this puzzle has fueled her research in diabetes and obesity.
Her interest in how glucose levels affect the brain led to her 2011 YCCI Scholar award examining how lean and obese subjects respond to food images. She showed that in obese subjects, there was decreased activity in areas of the brain associated with executive control and increased activity in brain areas associated with reward. “It seems that in the presence of high blood sugar, obese people behave differently than lean people, so maybe they’re not processing sugar in the same way,” she said. She is pursuing this line of inquiry in patients with diabetes.
Dr. Belfort De Aguiar uses cutting-edge imaging techniques for her research to understand the brain’s response to glucose. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, her work with Dr. Robert Sherwin showed that the brain processes fructose and glucose differently. Ingesting glucose reduced cerebral blood low and activity in brain regions that regulate appetite, but fructose did not have this effect. Glucose, but not fructose, also produced increased feelings of satisfaction and fullness. This is significant in light of the fact that both fructose consumption and rates of obesity have increased over the past few decades.
The Scholar award allowed Dr. Belfort De Aguiar to transition into an independent research career and she continues to rely on YCCI for expertise in biostatistics, as well as utilizing such facilities as the Core lab, the Magnetic Resonance Research Center, and the Hospital Research Unit. “Even though I’m no longer a Scholar, as a young faculty member at Yale, YCCI continues to offer me a lot of support,” she said.