Researchers were effectively able to reverse the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in mice through the administration of a daily oral drug—with no ill side effects. This is the first time that a treatment has been able to “cure” type 2 diabetes. The research appears in the journal Nature.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that almost ten percent of Americans—or 29.1 million people—have diabetes in the United States. Another 86 million are estimated to have prediabetes. 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes are type 2. Left untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to kidney failure, heart conditions and blindness.
Many people develop type 2 diabetes as they get older, especially if overweight. As the body ages, its response to insulin—which regulates the body’s blood sugar—gets weaker. Some are able to manage the disease through diet and exercise, others rely on insulin injections. Yet neither of these methods cure the disease, and dependence on insulin injections can lead to insulin resistance. There is no medical way to treat insulin resistance.
But researchers out of the University of California, San Diego, are working to change that. The team has created a drug that reversed insulin resistance in mice, allowing the mice to control their blood sugar levels again. The drug had no known side effects.
The drug works by hindering an enzyme found in the liver called low molecular weight protein tyrosine phosphatase (LMPTP), which is believed to contribute to cells becoming insulin resistant. “We found that LMPTP is a critical promoter of insulin resistance that develops during obesity,” said Stephanie Stanford of the University of California, San Diego and a researcher on the drug.
When LMPTP is hindered, the insulin receptors on the cells’ surface are reactivated—especially in the liver—allowing cells to once again absorb excess sugar.
When the drug was given orally to mice that had developed obesity and type 2 diabetes as a result of a high-fat diet, their blood sugar levels dropped back to normal. “Our inhibitor increased activation of the insulin receptor in the liver, and reversed diabetes without any apparent negative side effects,” said Stanford.
“This could lead to a new therapeutic strategy for treating type 2 diabetes,” she continued.
“If this new drug works as described, it could be used to reverse insulin resistance, but we need to know first if it does that safely in people,” said Emily Burns, of the charity Diabetes UK.
That is the next step for the research team.
“Our compound is very specific for the target, and we do not see any side effects after treatment in mice for a month, but the next step is to rigorously establish if it’s safe for use in clinical trials,” confirmed Stanford.
The team is now beginning to conduct safety testing of the drug on animals. If the drug is found to be safe, it will move on to clinical trials for humans.