For decades, medical professionals have had their sights set on insulin as the hormonal target of type 2 diabetes treatments. Now a recent study conducted by Columbia University Medical Center, in New York City, reveals targeting the hormone glucagon might be a more effective treatment method.
Dr. Ira Tabas, study author and lead researcher, told HealthDay, “A new target for the adverse effects of glucagon on diabetes has been identified, and with treatment we got rid of all the bad stuff, but didn’t cause side effects.”
Though the research has not progressed past the animal testing stage, preliminary findings show regulating glucagon can decrease insulin resistance, lower blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and prevent fat deposits from accumulating on the liver.
In the body, glucagon is produced when low levels of insulin are detected. The liver then notes the presence of the glucagon and produces glucose. In people with type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance makes the body falsely think insulin levels are low, resulting in an overabundance of glucose. Researchers hope that by regulating glucagon, they can prevent the surplus of sugar in the bloodstream.
(Photo via Sura Nualpradid)
Prior to this revolutionary treatment model, type 2 diabetes was only treated with insulin replacement or insulin modification.
The research wasn’t without a hurdle; because glucagon is critical to creating glucose, which supplies energy to the brain, blocking it completely wasn’t an option. Initial tests with partial glucagon regulation resulted in obesity, high cholesterol, and fatty liver deposits. This led the experts to try and narrow down the paths of travel for glucagon rather than inhibit it.
“Imagine if you have five pathways: A, B, C, D and E. Blocking pathways A and B can stop diabetes. But, if you block C, D, and E, you cause bad effects. So, you have to move further downstream to find the molecules that are responsible for pathways A and B so you can block those without blocking C, D, and E,” explained Dr. Tabas. “The more specific you can get, the less likely you’ll have adverse effects.”
This new method of thinking exposed the enzyme, CaMKII, a sub-pathway of glucagon. When this enzyme was blocked in test animals, blood sugar went down, fatty deposits decreased, cholesterol decreased, and insulin resistance improved.
Thus far, there have been no negative side effects.
“There’s always a concern whenever you inhibit any molecule in the body. We need to know why it’s there naturally and what could be the possible effects of inhibiting it. Our study showed no specific concerns though,” Tabas said in the report.
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