Sidra Medicine Research Publishes Study on Impact of Fasting on different organs

QF Entity seeks to understand how fasting can be a mechanism to treat diseases and to develop personalized treatment therapies

20 July 2020, Doha, Qatar – A team of researchers from Sidra Medicine have published a study about the molecular changes to the body as a result of short term fasting. The study, which was led by Dr. Luis R. Saraiva, the Director of the Metabolism and Diabetes Research Program at Sidra Medicine, has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Molecular Metabolism.

Dr. Luis R. Saraiva, who was the lead author on the study said: “Fasting has been practiced around the world for millennia, for either religious or health reasons. It has recently been considered a potential therapy to treat various conditions – whether related to weight loss; treating auto-immune diseases or to increase lifespan. While there are many clinical trials looking into the impact of fasting in these areas, the molecular mechanisms underlying fasting remain poorly understood, especially at the whole organism level.”

“Our four year-long research sought to address this key question – what impact does fasting have on the body and its different organs? Other questions we aimed to tackle were - does the time range of how long the fasts last play a role and what internal organs or systems are the drivers that change the way our entire body reacts to fasting? Once we understand this – it will change the way we approach fasting as a mechanism to treat diseases and to develop customized treatment therapies for patients. This is very much in line with our research strategy to continue on the path of personalized medicine for patients and families in Qatar,” continued Dr Saraiva.

Dr. Luis Saraiva, Director of Metabolism and Diabetes Research Program

Dr. Luis Saraiva, Director of Metabolism and Diabetes Research Program

Dr. Saraiva and his team’s study were able to find unique and novel insights into the underlying mechanisms of fasting and its effects an organismal level. They identified and were able to provide evidence that the immune system is a major target of short-term fasting among a “brain-liver-fats” organ network.

To investigate the molecular basis of fasting, the researchers used laboratory mice as a model to compare the molecular changes in nine different body tissues during five different time ranges of fasting, ranging from 2-22 hours. The team utilized the Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) sequencing technologies available at the Sidra Medicine’s Genomics Core facility, to identify active genes in the various organs across the different fasting times. They then used their bioinformatics expertise to decode the biological pathways that these changes were affecting.

The team discovered that fasting time affects the organs in different ways, in terms of what genes are more or less active. They also identified an organ network, including vital organs such as the brain and the liver along with white and brown fat, formed by the similarities of their affected biological processes playing a central role in impacting the immune system.

Dr. Susie Huang, co-first and co-corresponding author of the paper from Sidra Medicine said: “Using a novel combinatory data analysis approach, we let the data tell the story. They revealed coordinated immune changes across multiple organs during short-term fasting - bringing to light the roles of the immune system in regulating metabolism in healthy subjects. We believe this is a novel function that has only been recently discovered“.

The study at Sidra Medicine was done in collaboration with the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom; the Helmholtz Zentrum München from Germany and the Monell Chemical Senses Center in the USA. It was supported by a grant from the Qatar National Research Fund, awarded to Dr. Saraiva in 2016.

Read the Arabic press release here.

Please note that the team photo was taken before social distancing measures were implemented.


Differential regulation of the immune system in a brain-liver-fats organ network during short-term fasting.

Huang, SSY; Makhlouf, M; AbouMoussa, EH; Ruiz Tejada Segura, ML; Mathew, LS; Wang, K; Leung, MC; Chaussabel, D; Logan, DW; Scialdone, A; Garand, M; Saraiva, LR.

Mol Metab. 2020 Jun 8;40:101038. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2020.101038.

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