Could it be that a single injection is all it will take to stop Type 2 diabetes in its tracks? A group of researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies seem to think so! The team found that in a study of mice with the equivalent of type 2 diabetes, a single injection of the protein FGF1 was able to restore blood sugar levels to a healthy range for two days without any side effects. They believe that these findings will result in a new genesis of more effective and safer drugs to combat diabetes.
Types of diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes - Type 1 and Type 2. In Type 1 diabetes, the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are attacked by the immune system, and the body's ability to produce the hormone that keeps glucose or blood sugar in check is effectively destroyed.
Type 2 diabetes is associated with being overweight or physically inactive. In this form of diabetes, the body develops a resistance to insulin. Despite the pancreas being capable of producing the hormone, the cells that require it cannot use it properly. This results in high levels of circulating glucose. Type 2 diabetes can be managed with different levels of success through medication and lifestyle changes such as weight loss, diet, and regular exercise.
The statistics tell the story
The rates of type 2 diabetes have been on the rise in the last few decades. At present, there are 67 million confirmed diabetes patients in India, with another 30 million in the pre-diabetes group. By 2030, India will have the largest number of patients in the world. Type 2 diabetes, as a chronic disease, can lead to serious health problems.
Using FGF1 reversed insulin resistance to treat diabetic mice
Researchers of the study were amazed at the fact that when the mice were treated with FGF1 (fibroblast growth factor 1 protein), not only it helped in maintaing their glucose levels, but it also managed to reverse insulin resistance. Notably, no side effects were witnessed that usually accompanied most current diabetes treatments.
According to Ronald M Evans, professor and director of Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory, glucose control was a major problem in society today and with FGF1, glucose could be controlled in a powerful and unexpected manner.
The drugs for diabetes that are currently available try to lower blood glucose by altering gene expression to reverse insulin resistance and boost insulin levels. Byetta is one example, which increases insulin production. However, at times, glucose levels drop too far and undesirable side effects such as life-threatening hypoglycemia are caused.
Professor Evans and his colleagues made an unexpected discovery back in 2012 that revealed mice that lacked FGF1 developed diabetes quickly, if fed on a high-fat diet. They deduced that protein was important to successfully manage glucose levels. The team, then, wondered whether or not the symptoms of the disease would be affected if diabetic mice were giving the growth factor. With a single dose later, the blood glucose levels of the mice dropped to normal, and there were no side effects.
Obese mice, with diet-induced diabetes - a rodent equivalent of type 2 diabetes in humans - were injected with doses of FGF1. Researchers were stunned to know that the protein had a fundamental impact on the metabolism of the mice. After a single dose, the treated mice's blood sugar levels dropped to normal levels and stayed that way for over two days.
The drawbacks of current diabetic drugs like Actos for instance, is the risk of glucose dropping to dangerous levels and the fact that they have undesirable side effects such as liver and heart problems and weight gain. Researchers found that there were no side effects produced in the mice, even when FGF1 was administered in high doses. The protein kept blood glucose in a safe range by triggering the body's natural ability to regulate insulin, thereby reversing the number one symptom of diabetes effectively.
What does the future hold?
Researchers explained that FGF1 targeted specific cell types and metabolized quickly, leading to its more 'normal' response. There are still many unanswered questions in their minds and they have acknowledged the need for further testing, as they do not fully comprehend how FGF1 works.
Human trials planned
The study revealed that the ability of the protein to stimulate growth is completely separate from its effect on glucose. This is an important factor to deliberate when considering it as a drug candidate. According to Prof. Evans and his colleagues, the need of the hour is to find out which signaling pathways are involved when FGF1 acts on glucose to affect metabolism and diabetes. While human trials are being planned, fine-tuning the protein into a drug for clinical use will take time. Prof. Evans and his team are focusing on developing a new generation of FGF1 variants that affects glucose and not cell growth. When they find the perfect variation, it will mean a new and effective tool for glucose control, changing the way we approach the treatment of diabetes forever.