Insulin may not be essential for life in people with diabetes

Wed, 04 Sep 2013
Research from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center shows that the hormone leptin could replace the need for insulin in many people with diabetes.

The researchers used mice for the study that were not able to produce any insulin and tested one group of mice with injections of leptin whilst the other group had no treatment. The research found that the untreated mice died, as expected, whereas the mice treated with leptin survived.

Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells and is known to regulate fat storage and usage, and appetite. The study investigated how leptin was able to help the mice treated with the hormone to survive and the researchers were surprised to find that leptin's action on blood glucose levels was being mediated by specific nerves, GABAergic neurons, in the hypothalamus (an important part of the brain which helps regulate the endocrine system).

The traditional understanding has been that people with diabetes that make very little of their own insulin must rely on taking exogenous insulin, that is taking insulin from outside of the body such as by injection or the use of insulin pumps.

The use of injections or insulin pumps has become a part of daily life for people with type 1 diabetes and also for a significant number of people with type 2 diabetes. A major problem associated with insulin therapy is an increased susceptibility to experiencing very low blood glucose levels (severe hypoglycemia), which can affect quality of life and can lead to coma or death in worst cases. With leptin, there is no equivalent risk of developing severe hypos .

The researchers are confident that leptin could perform a similar role in humans and could therefore represent an alternative form of therapy for people with diabetes that would otherwise be insulin dependent.
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