Washington DC - Diabetics may someday pop a pill to control their disease, now that scientists have discovered a compound that might make such a pill effective. This new substance, whose discovery is reported in the 7 May issue of Science, appears to mimic the effects of insulin, at least in mice--but, unlike insulin, it can be swallowed instead of injected. A pill developed from this substance could be a welcome alternative to the insulin injections or rigorous lifestyle monitoring that are currently part of a diabetic's daily life.
Diabetes occurs when the body's cells are unable to absorb enough blood sugar, or glucose, to fuel their activities. To access this energy supply, cells need assistance from the hormone insulin, which kicks off a complex series of steps inside the cells that allows them to store and use glucose. This cascade of events doesn't occur-or occurs poorly-in diabetics, either because their bodies don't produce insulin (type I diabetes), or because they are resistant to its effects (type II). An oral drug that could trigger the same set of reactions in place of insulin could therefore be a boon for people with either form of the disease.
In order to avoid or delay the serious complications their disease can cause, diabetics must carefully control their blood sugar levels-currently a high-maintenance task. People with the early-onset and more severe type I diabetes need as many as four daily injections of insulin. And people with type II diabetes, who are usually over 40 or overweight, must carefully regulate their diet, weight, and physical activity. About 10% of the population in the Western world develops some degree of type II diabetes, so a pill that made the disease easier to manage could have a widespread benefit.
The research team, whose members are from the US, Spain, and Sweden, screened
over 50,000 different compounds to see if any of them might perform as a
stand-in for insulin. The compound would have to bin
Contact: Gabriel Paal
American Association for the Advancement of Science