A new compound has been discovered by scientists in the U.S. that could provide a novel approach to treating diabetes.
In a new study published in the May 21 issue of the journal Nature, Harvard researchers David Liu and Alan Saghatelian identified a compound that can improve natural insulin levels in mice by blocking or slowing the breakdown of the blood sugar-regulating hormone.
To help control blood glucose levels, people with insulin-dependent diabetes are currently offered three insulin-based treatment options: injections of insulin, drugs that stimulate the release of natural insulin, or medications that make the body more sensitive to insulin.
“What’s been missing has been the ability to regulate the degradation of insulin,” Professor Saghatelian explained. “The technological leap we’ve made was in identifying a molecule that allows that to happen. This opens up a new avenue to control insulin signalling in vivo.”
In this study, the newly discovered compound was shown to stop the insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE) in mice. This increased the animals’ insulin levels and promoted insulin signalling, thereby improving glucose tolerance. The research also found that the compound remained active in the body, and was able to help regulate blood sugar levels.
Liu, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard, said: “This work validates a new potential target for the treatment of diabetes. What we show is that inhibiting IDE in an animal can improve glucose tolerance under conditions that mimic the intake of a meal if you administer this compound beforehand.”
He added that as well as degrading insulin, the scientists uncovered that IDE also degrades “at least two other important glucose-regulating peptide hormones, glucagon and amylin.
“What this paper has done is given a proof of concept that targeting this protein is the way to go,” Saghatelian said, adding that the next move is for the pharmaceutical industry to start investigating IDE as a potential therapeutic target for diabetes.

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