Scientists Discover Hope of New Magic Bullet for Diabetes

In the wake of the recent concerns about commonly used anti-diabetic medications, scientists have identified a new class of chemicals that can block changes within the body leading to insulin resistance and diabetes.  In addition, the researchers say the discovery may pave the way for treatments for other metabolic disorders as well.

The diabetic medication Avandia is currently the subject of more than 13,000 lawsuits against the drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, with evidence that it boosts the chances of heart attack in diabetic patients already at increased risk because of their condition.  It has also been associated with increased incidence of eye disease, strokes, liver problems and bone fractures.  Avandia is currently being removed from pharmacy shelves and diabetic patients who have been taking it have been advised to consult their doctor at the earliest opportunity.  From November 2011, its use and sale will be severely restricted.

Other anti-diabetic drugs have also demonstrated side effects.  The anti-diabetic drug, pioglitazone, marketed in theUSas Actios, has been implicated in increased risk of bone fractures, weight gain, fluid retention, and an increased risk of heart disease, as well as relatively minor problems like sinusitis, headaches and tooth decay.

Scientists from Harvard University’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and The Scripps Research Institute collaborated in the new study, which was led by professors Patrick Griffin, Bruce Spiegelman and Theodore Kamenecka.  The study, which built on knowledge gained in previous research, was published in the journal Nature.

The active ingredient of Avandia, rosiglitazone, works by binding to the PPAR receptors in the cells, making them more receptive to insulin and thus able to control blood sugar levels.  The researchers identified a compound called SR1664 which may be able to reproduce the therapeutic benefits of Avandia and other anti-diabetic drugs without their undesirable side effects.  In previous studies the team found genetic disruptions resulted from changes to a protein called PPARG caused when the enzyme Cdk5 adds a phosphate group to the protein.  This action appears to be linked to obesity.  They found the compound SR1664 could block this effect by binding to PPARG, and thus provide a form of anti-diabetic therapy which might cause significantly less side effects than drugs currently on the market.

Diabetic mice treated with SR1664 showed improved blood sugar levels but with none of the side effects, including weight gain and fluid retention, shown by the control group which was given Avandia.

“It appears that we may have an opportunity to develop entire new classes of drugs for diabetes and perhaps other metabolic disorders,” said Professor Spiegelman.

While SR1664 may not be marketed as a drug itself, its discovery lights the way for the development of effective anti-diabetic compounds which use the mechanism discovered by the study, and which may help diabetics.  More research will be needed to assess the usefulness of the compound and to discover whether it does in fact have any side effects not identified in the tests on mice.

However, with 25.8 million diabetics, 79 million pre-diabetics and up to 7 million estimated undiagnosed cases in America, the research is vitally useful in contributing to the development of new drug therapies.

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