Studies in mice show that a drug used to treat diabetes, called metformin, may be helpful in combating a common and potentially fatal liver disorder. The discovery, reported in the September issue of Nature Medicine, may lead to the development of the first drug to treat people who suffer from the condition known as fatty liver, the researchers say.
"We found that the drug completely cured fatty liver in mice. We didn't expect results this good," says Anna Mae Diehl, M.D., a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and principal investigator of the study. "Our results indicate that metformin may help treat fatty liver disease in patients with obesity-related insulin resistance. This is a large majority of patients with the disorder, perhaps as many as 30 to 50 percent."
Almost a quarter of adults in many industrialized countries suffer from excessive fat accumulation in the liver, a condition associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes. The disorder can lead to chronic liver disease, and once liver disease develops, it becomes one of the most common causes of death in this population. Currently, no drug treatments exist, and marginally useful therapies rely on dieting and exercise.
For several years, researchers have known that high levels of insulin and insulin-resistance are associated with fatty liver but it remained unclear whether or not these alterations played a direct role in the development of the liver disorder. Taking its possible role as a cue, however, Diehl and her colleagues wondered whether the drug metformin, which sensitizes the body to the effects of insulin, might prove effective against fighting the condition. To find out, they gave the drug to obese, insulin resistant mice who had fatty livers and studied them in comparison with similar mice who did not receive the drug.
The researchers discovered that mice who took the metformin were cured of their fatty liver completely. Although the drug is known to decrease ap
Contact: Kate O'Rourke
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions