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Patches of Good News on Diabetes

Alternative Treatments on Horizon

Researchers are examining an insulin-loaded patch prototype that may provide an alternative to insulin shots..

By John Salak –

Good news and diabetes usually don’t go hand-in-hand. After all, almost 40 million Americans suffer from diabetes, including about 8 million who don’t know they have it. Another 100 million are probably prediabetic, the vast majority of which are unaware of the risks they face. These dangers are significant as diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., led by Type 2 Diabetes. The disease also comes with a $300 billion annual price tag between treatment costs and lost wages, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Recently, however, there has been a double-dip of good news on the treatment front. Scientists from Scripps Research Institute in California have announced promising results on a new strategy that might one day treat and or prevent Type 2 diabetes. Their work focused on testing an experimental compound (IXA4) on obese mice. The initial results showed that the compound seemed to activate a natural signaling pathway that offset dangerous, obesity-driven metabolic changes that often result in diabetes.

It is still early going as far as determining how effective this strategy will be on humans, but the Scripps team was, nonetheless, buoyed by its first set of findings. “We were able to activate this pathway in both the liver and the pancreas with this one compound, and that added up to a significant overall improvement in metabolic health of obese animals,” reported Luke Wiseman of Scripps. “This is the first time anyone has shown that a small molecule activating this pathway in this manner works to treat disease in a live animal,” added Enrique Saez, a Scripps colleague.

Wiseman and others have been examining how a signaling pathway involving two proteins called IRE1 and XBP1’s can reduce cellular stress and lessen their ability to promote diabetes. The results, however, have been mixed at best. Ultimately, using the IXA4 compound on IRE1/XBP1s may be more effective at generating positive signaling without any negative impact. All this makes the approach a promising, potential treatment for humans. “We’re also continuing to work with IXA4 as a potential treatment for other metabolic disorders such as fatty liver disease,” Saez added.

The American Chemical Society gave those suffering from diabetes yet another boost when it recently reported a prototype insulin-loaded patch may provide an alternative to insulin shots. The patch that helps manage blood sugar levels is designed to stick comfortably inside a person’s cheek.

If the approach proves effective and safe approximately 6 million Americans who suffer from Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes and are forced to take insulin injections via pens, syringes or implanted semi-permanent pumps would have a much more comfortable alternative. These patches would also lessen the related risks of infections through injections and eliminate biohazard disposal issues associated with used syringes.

Researchers have been looking for alternative insulin induction methods for years. But human skin, in general, is simply too thick for gel-like lotions to pass into the body. Not so with the skin inside the mouth, which is about one-quarter the thickness of outside skin, making it a possible, easier entry point for insulin to get into the bloodstream.

The prototype involved researchers first developing small squares of a nanofiber mat that were soaked with insulin and placed inside the cheeks of pigs. There was no discernable irritation from the patches. In addition, the patches also raised the plasma insulin levels of the animals, which provided an initial proof of concept. Six human volunteers also tested the patches for convenience and reported no discomfort after two hours of use.

The next step? Conduct further preclinical studies of the prototype on animal models, researchers report.

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