A single surgical injection performed by University of Washington researchers restored blood sugar levels in subjects with type 2 diabetes for weeks, and in some cases, months. The catch? The subjects were rats. Nonetheless, poses lots of promise for the more than 370 million people worldwide living with type 2 diabetes.
If the success of the injection carries over to humans, does that mean if you have type 2 diabetes, it gives you carte blanche to eat whatever you want and not exercise? That question remains unanswered. Even if so, obviously, it’s better for your health to minimize your intake of added sugars (fresh fruit is not a source of added sugars) and move your body every day.
With that health lecture out of the way, let’s get back to learning about this breakthrough research…
The interesting thing about the injection is that it doesn’t affect the main organ associated with type 2 diabetes, which is the pancreas. Rather, the injection of the protein, fibroblast growth factor 1, interacts with the brain. Quoted in ScienceDaily.com, one of the lead researchers and co-director of the UW Medicine Diabetes Institute, Dr. Michael Schwartz, said, “Until recently, the brain’s ability to normalize elevated blood sugar levels in diabetic animals was unrecognized.”
Although far more is needed to comprehend how the brain affects blood sugar levels, the research has shed some light on the mechanisms. For starters, the injection of fibroblast growth factor 1 triggers cellular and molecular responses that are activated in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus gland controls many bodily functions, including levels of blood sugar, hunger, food intake, and energy use and storage.
The researchers also speculate that the injection works by safeguarding brain-signaling pathways that are critical for keeping blood sugar levels regulated. Moreover, fibroblast growth factor 1 repairs a protective “netting” around neurons (called perineuronal nets) that have been damaged by diabetes.
Another way the injection of the protein may work is by enhancing the communication between neurons in the melanocortin signaling system, a brain circuit crucial to control of feeding, body weight and blood sugar.
The news about the injection falls right on the heels of another important discovery in diabetes research, that of a protein called CNOT3. Researchers speculate CNOT3 may be to blame for dysfunctional insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas.
As for the fibroblast growth factor 1 injection, it will take some time until these results are replicated in human subjects (if these results will translate in people at all). However, the preliminary findings are reason for optimism. With the injection, it could very well be that type 2 diabetes becomes not only easily manageable, but reversible.
Schwartz seems very optimistic about the injection’s potential in diabetes management. The findings, he said, “may one day inform therapeutic strategies for inducing sustained diabetes remission, rather than simply lowering blood sugar levels on a day-to-day basis as current treatments do.”