Studies of a rare genetic condition that increases cancer risk have unveiled a potential treatment for metabolic syndrome, a common disorder that afflicts as many as one in every four American adults and puts them at sharply increased risk of type 2 diabetes and clogged arteries.
Scientists know relatively little about metabolic syndrome, which is linked to a range of symptoms that include obesity, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, low levels of good cholesterol and high blood sugar levels. The number of adults and children with the condition is rising sharply in industrial countries, and diagnoses are also increasing in developing countries like India and China as they adopt Western standards of living.
In findings published in the November issue of Cell Metabolism, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. report that a small dose of the malaria drug chloroquine eased many symptoms of metabolic syndrome in mice, reducing blood pressure, decreasing hardening and narrowing of the arteries and improving blood sugar tolerance.
"We just received funding for a clinical trial, and we're very excited to see if the processes activated by chloroquine can effectively treat one of the most common health problems of modern industrialized society," says senior author Clay F. Semenkovich, M.D., professor of medicine and of cell biology and physiology at Washington University. "We already know that chloroquine is safe and well-tolerated, and our mouse results suggest we may only need very low and perhaps infrequent doses to achieve similar effects in humans."
Researchers elsewhere proposed recently that high doses of the anti-aging molecule resveratrol might similarly treat obesity and metabolic syndrome. However, it is unclear if such high doses are safe, and scientists know relatively little about how resveratrol is easing symptoms.