• Volume 13  Number 2  Spring 2004


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Animal scientist’s research brings home the bacon

Study of swine fat cells may apply to human immune system


Since getting the 1928 Travel Air reconditioned and airworthy, the grin on Larry Murdock's face has become a permanent fixture.
Michael Spurlock (left), with the help of research students like Kolapo Ajuwon, has earned the prestigious Agricultural Research awards.

Michael Spurlock is combining the study of swine disease, growth and nutrition with the study of two of the most troubling human maladies — diabetes and obesity. His innovative research has earned him the 2004 Purdue University Agricultural Research Award.

“We are continuing our work on the relation of fat cells to immunity, especially concerning human obesity and diabetes,” says Spurlock, an animal sciences associate professor. “But we never lose touch with pig production. The function of adipocytes, fat cells, is important for breeding stock.”
Spurlock's focus on the role of fat cells in regulating energy balance and immune response contributed to naming him the research award winner, according Randy Woodson, director of Agricultural Research Programs.

“Mike has made exceptional contributions to the body of knowledge concerning metabolism, fat and the immune system,” Woodson says. “His work promises to have major impact on human health, animal productivity and animal well-being.”

Spurlock has found evidence that adipocytes are active participants and regulators of how the body responds to disease. The fat cells secrete hormone-like proteins that help determine how dietary energy is used in other tissues, he says.

This is important because both people and animals that don't properly use, or metabolize, the food they eat can become obese and/or develop Type II diabetes.

People with Type II diabetes produce insulin in their pancreas, but the insulin can't control their glucose levels as it would in people without the disease. Adipocytes normally produce factors that promote insulin regulation of glucose levels, but these factors don't function properly when obesity is involved.

“The fact that fat cells actually promote or secrete hormone-like factors may be fundamentally linked to insulin resistance,” Spurlock says. “If we can learn the regulators that activate the fat cells, we may be able to manipulate the immune system to control energy metabolism and apply that to treating diabetes and cancer.”
The research award includes a plaque, a $1,500 honorarium, and $10,000 for continuation of Spurlock's work.

Contact Spurlock at spurloc0@purdue.edu