Imagine eating all the sugary deliciousness you wanted with no fear of diabetes or disease. Scientists at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre say they have discovered a previously unidentified enzyme that can stop the toxic effects of sugar in various organs of your body. The enzyme, glycerol 3-phosphate phosphatase (or G3PP), helps to control your glucose levels while also regulating how your body utilizes fats. In short, it performs as a natural sugar detox.

The cells in your body use glucose (sugar) and fatty acids as their main nutrients. Whenever you eat, beta cells in your pancreas sense changes in the glucose levels within your blood and produce insulin, a hormone that works like a key opening all the locks in each of your body's cells. Once opened, the cells allow glucose inside, where they can convert it into energy. But if glucose cannot move inside your cells, it will build up in your blood. When too much glucose builds up in your blood, what once fed your cells instead becomes toxic and begins to damage cells. This leads to dysfunction and disease, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular syndromes.

One for the Textbooks

For the current study, a team of researchers who had been searching for mechanisms enabling beta cells to get rid of excess glucose as glycerol discovered a previously unidentified enzyme, G3PP, in mammalian cells. After examination, they discovered G3PP was present in all body tissues. The molecule, they say, is needed for both energy production and fat formation, and is therefore central to metabolism.

“By diverting glucose as glycerol, G3PP prevents excessive formation and storage of fat, and it also lowers excessive production of glucose in liver, a major problem in diabetes," Dr. Murthy Madiraju said in a press release.

According to the researchers, their new finding is extremely rare. A new enzyme at the heart of metabolism has not been identified since the 1960s, so it’s likely G3PP will soon be included in biochemistry textbooks. Naturally, they are following up by trying to discover new drugs — small molecule activators of G3PP — to harness the power of this natural enzyme and treat cardiometabolic disorders.

Because these drugs will act on a previously unknown target, they will be unique in their action as well as first in an entirely new class of drugs. While the researchers believe their work offers new hope for those who suffer from obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, please don’t hold your breath: The development of any FDA-approved drug is a very long process requiring many experiments to prove safety in humans.

Source: Mugabo Y, Zhao S, Seifried A, et al. Identification of a mammalian glycerol-3-phosphate phosphatase: Role in metabolism and signaling in pancreatic β-cells and hepatocytes. PNAS. 2016.