A new study from Science Translational Medicine (DOI:10.1126/scitranslmed.3006534) presents data showing that tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), a compound isolated from the bile of bears, may actually slow the development of type 1 diabetes (in mice at least). It is thought to work by reducing stress responses from the endoplasmic reticulum in the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas which become defective in type 1 diabetes. Use of bear bile is common in traditional Chinese medicine, and at one time led to near-extinction of black bears in China. Fortunately, synthetic versions of the compound are available and have also been shown to be effective in treating ocular diseases (DOI:10.1007/s12177-009-9030-x).

Chinese medicines made from bear bile. Image from Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.

Chinese medicines made from bear bile. Image from Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.