A single injection of a protein that keeps diabetics' blood sugar under control for several days could become available in the next few years. Researchers believe the discovery could signal a new generation of treatment for Type 2 diabetes, a disease that is skyrocketing around the world.
Scientists have known about the protein, called FGF1, for several decades. But researchers discovered the potential of the molecule, which is part of a family of so-called growth factors, when they injected it into mice that were engineered to have Type 2 - or adult-onset - diabetes.
The blood sugar levels of the experimental animals were restored to a healthy range for more than two days after a single injection.
Lowering blood sugar
In the adult-onset form of the disease, the body’s cells do not absorb sugar or glucose derived from food. FGF1 appears to resensitize the body to insulin, which transports glucose into the cells, normalizing blood sugar levels.
But Ron Evans, an expert on endocrine-related diseases, stresses that FGF1 is not a cure for diabetes.
“So, as a result, the combination of FGF1 and the body’s insulin rebalances the equation and allows glucose to be controlled as if it was normal,” he said.
Current treatments for Type 2 diabetes are aimed at boosting the body’s production of insulin in order to lower glucose levels in the blood. But they can have serious side effects.
If and when regulators approve FGF1 for the treatment of diabetes, it would have to be injected like insulin every other day. Evans and his colleagues at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies are looking into formulating a longer-acting form of the protein.
Worldwide, adult onset diabetes has reached epidemic proportions as carbohydrate-rich foods, particularly fast foods, have become readily available. Excess weight and inactivity usually trigger the disease.
Evans is excited about the prospect of a new treatment for diabetes.
“It is exciting because it is a new role for an old molecule. And it just shows you that there is a lot to be learned and it is a lesson, because after 30 years to find what may be the true function of this molecule came as a surprise. No one was looking for this,” he said.
Salk researchers report their findings in the journal Nature. Evans thinks clinical trials of FGF1, which he said are safe, likely will begin in 12 to 18 months.