Sidra Medicine team publishes study on impact of fasting on different organs
July 20 2020 09:50 PM
The team behind the study (from left): Eman Aboumoussa, Dr Melanie Makhlouf, Dr Luis Saraiva, Dr Sus
The team behind the study (from left): Eman Aboumoussa, Dr Melanie Makhlouf, Dr Luis Saraiva, Dr Susie Huang and Dr Mathieu Garand. (Photo taken before social distancing measures were implemented).

A team of researchers from Sidra Medicine has published a study about the molecular changes to the body as a result of short-term fasting.

The study, which was led by Dr Luis R Saraiva, director of the Metabolism and Diabetes Research Programme at Sidra Medicine, has been published in the peer-reviewed journal 'Molecular Metabolism'.

Dr Saraiva, who was the lead author on the study, said: “Fasting has been practised around the world for millennia, for either religious or health reasons. It has recently been considered a potential therapy to treat various conditions – whether related to weight loss, treating auto-immune diseases or to increase lifespan. While there are many clinical trials looking into the impact of fasting in these areas, the molecular mechanisms underlying fasting remain poorly understood, especially at the whole organism level.”

“Our four-year-long research sought to address this key question – what impact does fasting have on the body and its different organs? Other questions we aimed to tackle were -- does the time range of how long the fasts last play a role and what internal organs or systems are the drivers that change the way our entire body reacts to fasting? Once we understand this – it will change the way we approach fasting as a mechanism to treat diseases and to develop customised treatment therapies for patients. This is very much in line with our research strategy to continue on the path of personalised medicine for patients and families in Qatar,” he continued.

Dr Saraiva and his team’s study was able to find unique and novel insights into the underlying mechanisms of fasting and its effects an organismal level, Sidra Medicine said in a statement. They identified and were able to provide evidence that the immune system is a major target of short-term fasting among a 'brain-liver-fats' organ network.

To investigate the molecular basis of fasting, the researchers used laboratory mice as a model to compare the molecular changes in nine different body tissues during five different time ranges of fasting, ranging from 2-22 hours. The team utilised the Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) sequencing technologies available at Sidra Medicine’s Genomics Core facility to identify active genes in the various organs across the different fasting times. They then used their bioinformatics expertise to decode the biological pathways that these changes were affecting.

The team discovered that fasting time affects the organs in different ways, in terms of what genes are more or less active. They also identified an organ network, including vital organs such as the brain and the liver along with white and brown fat, formed by the similarities of their affected biological processes playing a central role in impacting the immune system.

Dr Susie Huang, co-first and co-corresponding author of the paper from Sidra Medicine, said: “Using a novel combinatory data analysis approach, we let the data tell the story. They revealed co-ordinated immune changes across multiple organs during short-term fasting -- bringing to light the roles of the immune system in regulating metabolism in healthy subjects. We believe this is a novel function that has only been recently discovered."

The study at Sidra Medicine was done in collaboration with the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK, the Helmholtz Zentrum München from Germany and the Monell Chemical Senses Center in the US. It was supported by a grant from the Qatar National Research Fund, awarded to Dr Saraiva in 2016.

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