Getting the Skinny
on Dietary Fat

Dietary fat often takes the heat for an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and related diseases. But the picture is much more complicated, UNL biochemist Concetta DiRusso says.

“We’re trying to understand how much and which kinds of fatty acids we really need to be eating for optimal health.”

By studying the roles different types of fatty acids play in both causing and preventing disease, DiRusso is helping expand understanding about what constitutes a healthy diet. Her research also may lead to treatments for obesity-related diseases.

Optimally, adipose tissue, commonly known as body fat, absorbs fatty acids − whether ingested or synthesized from carbohydrates by the liver − to store for energy. As adipose tissue ages, however, fatty acids can end up in other places, like the pancreas, where they kill insulin-producing cells, causing diabetes, or in the heart, causing heart failure.

With a $371,250 National Institutes of Health grant, DiRusso tests compounds for their ability to inhibit fatty acid uptake into different cell types, such as liver, intestinal and pancreatic cells. She’s discovered compounds that inhibit uptake into the pancreas, which may lead to diabetes drug treatment.
In another study, DiRusso found that all omega-3 fatty acids, known for their heart-healthy attributes, are not created equal. Rodents fed diets containing omega-3s from plant sources, such as flax seed and canola oil, showed as much fat accumulation in the liver as those whose diets contained lard.

"It’s the omega-3 found in fish oil (DHA) that you want to increase in your diet," DiRusso said, citing benefits such as preventing blood coagulation and promoting nerve growth. "The American diet has very, very low amounts of DHA fatty acids."

DiRusso also collaborates with other UNL researchers, investigating dietary fatty acid effects on gene expression and metabolism in the liver and gut.

Studying fat buildup in the liver has become particularly important because of the increasing prevalence of once-rare nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, now the No. 1 cause of liver failure leading to transplants.

"We’re trying to understand how much and which kinds of fatty acids we really need to be eating for optimal health."

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Associated Web Content

NUtech Ventures Concetta DiRusso Profile


The 2009-2010 Annual Report is published by the
University of Nebraska−Lincoln Office of Research and Economic Development. More information is available
at or contact:

Prem S. Paul
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Vicki Miller, Monica Norby, Ashley Washburn, Elizabeth Banset, Office of Research and Economic Development

Contributing Writers:
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Some articles are based on earlier stories from University Communications and IANR News Service and written by Kelly Bartling, Troy Fedderson, Sara Gilliam, Sandi Alswager Karstens, Daniel R. Moser, Judy Nelson, Tom Simons,
Steve Smith, Carole Wilbeck

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Historic photos, page 22, courtesy Joyce Clarke Turvey

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