AUSTRALIAN scientists have found a drug that can prevent and reverse the progression of type 2 diabetes in mice and they are hopeful it will work in humans, too.
In what could be a major breakthrough for millions of people with diabetes worldwide, an antibody developed by CSL Limited in Australia has been found to prevent the condition in mice bred to develop it. It also reversed the progression of the disease in mice that had developed obesity and type 2 diabetes as a consequence of a fat-rich diet.
One of the researchers, the senior vice-president of research at CSL, Dr Andrew Nash, said the research published in Nature today was ''very promising'' and followed many years of work with scientists, particularly at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
He said the antibody called 2H10 could block a protein called Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (BVEGF-B), which affects the transport and storage of fat in body tissue. This helped prevent fat accumulating in damaging places, such as the heart, and meant cells could continue to respond properly to insulin, keeping blood glucose levels normal.
Type 2 diabetes is normally preceded by insulin resistance, which is most often caused by obesity. When this happens, the cells no longer respond sufficiently to insulin, which leads to elevated levels of blood sugar.
Diabetes expert and professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne Joe Proietto described the research as a ''major breakthrough'' and said the drug did not appear to harm the mice.
He said although a range of drugs were available for people with type 2 diabetes, many carried side effects and did not control symptoms long term, causing people to deteriorate and require regular insulin injections.
While the best available treatments worked by increasing fat cells in the body to reduce fat storage in muscles, Professor Proietto said 2H10 prevented fat from entering muscles in the first place.
''The exciting thing about this is that it's targeting the main cause of insulin resistance … and that is too much fat inside muscles,'' he said.
The chief executive of Diabetes Australia, Professor Greg Johnson, said although the finding was exciting, it would take many more years of work to know if it represented a new treatment. ''This is a study in rats, so it's at a very early stage. There is a long, long way to go in terms of the processes needed to determine if this translates to humans,'' he said.
Dr Nash said he hoped human trials would begin in the next two years.
Type 2 diabetes affects about 310 million people worldwide and its prevalence is increasing every year. In Australia, 275 new cases are diagnosed every day. There is no cure and in serious cases it can cause kidney failure, blindness, amputations, heart attacks and death.