All over the world, the number of people with diabetes continues to be on the rise since the 1980s, with 422 million people diagnosed by 2014. The United States alone has experienced a considerable rise in the incidence of diabetes, with the number of Americans diagnosed increasing from 5.5 million in 1980, to approximately 22 million in 2014—an increase of about 400 percent in less than forty years. In the UK, in 2016, the number of people living with diabetes in crossed the 4 million mark – an increase of 65 per cent in 10 years.
Many develop type 2 diabetes as they grow older, as their body’s response to insulin – a hormone that controls how much sugar circulates in our blood – gets weaker. Some people can manage their symptoms by sticking to a restrictive diet, or using medications to remove sugar from their system, although many of these have side effects, such as weight gain or diarrhoea.
These drugs can only help manage the disease – they cannot reverse it. “We don’t have anything that can overcome insulin resistance,” says Emily Burns of the charity Diabetes UK. As a result, many people end up having to inject insulin to make sure excess sugar is removed from their blood. Left untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to kidney and heart disease, foot ulcers, nerve damage, and eyesight problems.
Now, a team of researchers from the University of California, San Diego, led by Dr. Stephanie Stanford is proposing a remedy in the form of a single pill that aims to bring back insulin sensitivity in diabetic patients. Until recently, drugs were unable to revive the insulin signaling function in diabetic patients. The drug created by Stanford’s team, however, hopes to reinstating this function.
How Does It Work
The new drug inhibits an enzyme called low molecular weight protein tyrosine phosphatase (LMPTP), that is suspected to bring about the lowering of cell sensitivity to insulin. With reduced LMPTP activity, the drug re-enables insulin receptors on the surface of the cells — particularly those inside the liver — which in turn restores the cell’s power to regulate excess sugar. When the body can once again regulate blood sugar levels, the condition of Type 2 diabetes is effectively reversed.
The researchers fed laboratory mice a high-fat diet that made them obese, which subsequently caused them to develop high blood sugar levels. The drug was given to the mice on a daily basis and it successfully restored insulin sensitivity without producing any negative side effects.
While the lab mice trial’s results are exciting, the researchers have to continue testing the drug for safety, so human clinical trials will take some time. But Stanford is confident that the drug “could create a new therapeutic strategy for treating type 2 diabetes,”
Although we have come across diabetes reversal in patients before, it’s never been achieved through medication alone. So, if this new drug is approved for human use, it might be a truly revolutionary treatment.