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Scientists restore normal blood sugar levels in diabetic mice

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Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Scientists have discovered a novel protein-based treatment that restores normal blood-sugar levels in diabetic mice for a period of seven days. The study, published in Nature today, reveals a possible new therapeutic pathway for people who suffer from type 2 diabetes. "We had no idea that this molecule would have this effect," says Michael Downes, a diabetes researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California and a co-author of the study. "But it appears that the molecule restores insulin sensitivity in diabetic mice."

In the study, researchers injected mice with a protein called fibroblast growth factor 1 (FGF1). This procedure allowed the animals to use insulin normally for a period of about seven days, without experiencing the kinds of side effects — weight gain and bone loss — typically associated with other drugs that restore insulin function, Downes says. "And it worked fine at repeated injections, over a period of about a month."

"We had no idea that this molecule would have this effect."

These results are preliminary, however, and it remains to be seen if FGF1 would have the same effect in humans. It’s also unclear exactly how FGF1 was able to achieve this result, so the researchers will need more time to determine the mechanism that underlies the treatment — and whether or not it alters other processes in the body. "The findings described in the article are very interesting and valuable," says Carles Lerin Martinez, a diabetes researcher at Hospital Sant Joan de Déu in Barcelona who did not participate in the study. "Much effort is being devoted to finding novel strategies to treat type 2 diabetes, and insulin-sensitizers hold big promise," adding that "in my opinion there are enough data to support their conclusions."

The pharmaceutical "industry would be very worried by that."

But Marc Prentki, director of the Montreal Diabetes Research Center, isn’t as enthusiastic about the therapy. "A very important effect they see with FGF1 is a dramatic reduction in appetite that is transient... and lasts about two weeks," he wrote in an email to The Verge. The pharmaceutical "industry would be very worried by that," he says, because of fears that appetite suppressors can lead to depression. "Overall I think they have an insulin sensitizing effect independent of appetite, but [reduced] appetite explains much of their beneficial effect independently of insulin action." But Downes says that the feeding effect isn’t much of a concern because it isn’t permanent. "It’s only a temporary effect."

The researchers have a lot of work ahead of them, but Downes says he hopes to test FGF1 on humans within the next five years. "This represents another possible therapeutic pathways for pharmaceutical companies to look at," he says. "We feel that this has unique properties that need to be investigated."