A gene that could help protect against diabetes has been found in fat cells, scientists say.
It shows that the body's ability to regulate blood sugar can actually be improved by the presence of body fat, according to U.S. researchers.
Professor Ulf Smith, president of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, called the finding 'really exciting'.
The gene resists type 2 diabetes by converting glucose sugar into fatty acids and boosting sensitivity to insulin, which regulates the blood sugar.
For most obese people, levels of sugar rise too much because it is prevented from entering fat cells.
But a team from Boston in the U.S. found that if they increased levels of a 'glucose transporter' gene in obese mice, it allowed more sugar into their fat cells and protected against the condition.
Sugar in fat cells triggered a response from the gene - called ChREBP - that regulated insulin sensitivity throughout the body, according to the Daily Express.
Nearly three million people in the UK suffer from diabetes, and a further 850,000 have it without knowing.
Most have type 2 diabetes, with around 2.5million suffering from the illness, which can cause strokes, heart attacks and blindness.
It normally develops during middle age from obesity or an unhealthy lifestyle.
'The general concept that all fat is bad is not true,' said lead researcher at Harvard Medical School, Dr Mark Herman.
Regulated: Increased levels of the 'glucose transporter' gene allow more sugar into fat cells, which protects against diabetes
'Obesity is commonly associated with metabolic dysfunction that puts people at higher risk for diabetes, stroke and heart disease, but there is a large percentage of obese people who are metabolically healthy.'
The scientists, whose findings were published in the journal Nature, found that - conversely - normal weight mice missing the transporter gene developed diabetic symptoms.
Previous research has shown that the gene is more active in those whose bodies had a better sugar balance.
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