Japanese researchers have moved a step closer to an oral treatment for diabetes, offering hope that a breakthrough will be made against a disease racking an increasingly obese world.
Scientists at the University of Tokyo said they have created a compound that helps the body control glucose in the bloodstream.
The fuel is vital to the functioning of organs, but too much of it is bad news. In some people it leads to Type 2 diabetes, a condition that can cause heart disease, strokes and kidney failure.
Doctors say the incidence of Type 2 diabetes has rocketed over the last few decades, a factor they blame largely on the growing number of overweight people.
Studies have shown that the obese tend to have lower levels of adiponectin — a hormone that regulates glucose and increases the effectiveness of insulin.
Japanese researchers have developed a compound named AdipoRon that mimics the effects of the hormone. Crucially, unlike adiponectin, which is broken down as it passes through the gut, AdipoRon survives unscathed all the way to the blood.
AdipoRon could be “a lead compound” in a possible oral treatment for diabetes, said Toshimasa Yamauchi, a member of the research team and a lecturer at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Medicine.
“We aim to launch clinical tests in a few years,” he said.
Doctors advise people with Type 2 diabetes to eat healthily and exercise, but the researchers said that’s too much of a challenge sometimes.
“Dietary therapy is not easy even for healthy people, no matter whether or not they are obese or have disease,” they said in a press release. “The opportunities for exercise have inevitably reduced drastically as society has become more automated.
“A compound that could imitate dietary and exercise treatments and realize health benefits” has long been a desired goal in the field, said the team, whose work was published in the online version of Nature.
Researchers found the four-month survival rate for obese and diabetic mice fed high-fat food was only 30 percent, against 95 percent for the same kind of mice on a normal low-fat, balanced diet.
Similar overweight and diabetic creatures on the high-fat diet that were given the compound showed a four-month survival rate rising to 70 percent.
The team’s repeated experiments “have showed mice given the compound lived longer even though they were fed with high-fat food and did not lose weight,” Yamauchi said.
He also noted that some people have difficulty exercising because of heart or other physical problems, or may find it difficult to cope with restrictions on the intake of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
The compound could eventually supplement exercise or dietary restrictions for those people, he said, adding it also had potential as a weight-loss medicine because of an increase in energy consumption that had been noted.
Yuji Matsuzawa, the doctor whose research team found and named adiponectin in humans in 1995, said the findings marked “major progress” in the study of the protein.
“More research needs to be done on adiponectin as it is a multipotent hormone that could prevent cancer, arterial stiffening and many other problems — a firefighter or goalkeeper in the body, so to speak,” Matsuzawa said.
“There also could be another approach aimed at increasing production of adiponectin itself as it derives from fat cells,” he said.