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Leptin could Relieve Type 1 Diabetes

Scientists from UT Southwestern Medical Center found another drug to aid type 1 diabetics other than insulin. Using terminally ill rodents diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, researchers found out that leptin, a hormone produced by the fat cells could lower glucose levels and maintain the glucose in normal levels for an extended period.

People with type 1 diabetes lack insulin because their insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed. “The fact that these animals don’t die and are restored to normal health despite a total lack of insulin is hard for many researchers and clinicians to believe,” said Dr. Roger Unger, senior author of the study. “Many scientists, including us, thought it would be a waste of timeto give leptin in the absence of insulin. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that insulin is the only substance that can correct the consequences of insulin deficiency,” Dr. Unger said.

Leptin apparently lowers glucose by suppressing glucagon, a hormone produced by the pancreas that increases glucose levels. In the study, researchers tested for the first time whether a single injection of the leptin gene into insulin-deficient mice and rats on the verge of death from diabetic coma could reverse the dire situation and keep the animals from dying. The animals that received the leptin gene began producing excessive amounts of leptin, which reversed all the measurable complications of type 1diabetes including weight loss, hyperglycemia, and ketoacidosis-a potentially fatal condition that develops when the body doesn’t have enough insulin to meet basic metabolic requirements. Much of the effect was caused by complete suppression of the high glucagon levels.

According to lead author of the study, Dr. Xinxin Yu, the eats were nearly dead. “But if we gave them the leptin gene, within two weeks, the terminally ill rodents were restored to full health without any other treatment.”

Although it is still too early to determine whether leptin might someday replace insulin as a treatment for diabetic patients, this study shows that leptin could at least handle some of insulin’s job requirements and do it for longer periods of time.

“My hope is that you could give leptin for one type of action, glucagon’s suppression, for example, and insulin for another. Or perhaps give a substance other than insulin entirely,” Dr. Unger said. “What would be a tremendous advance would be the ability to give an oral agent that suppresses glucagon without injections.”

Dr. May-Yun Wang, assistant professor of internal medicine, Dr. Zhao Wang, postdoctoral researcher in internal medicine, and former postdoctoral fellow Dr. Byung-Hyun Park are the other researchers involved in the study.

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