A drug commonly used to treat osteoporosis may also trigger the production of insulin-controlling cells, according to new research.
The study, published in Cell Metabolism, focused on the drug Denosumab, which is already approved by the FDA to treat osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens the bones, resulting in a greater risk of fractures. Osteoporosis tends to affect people as they get older, but other conditions, including diabetes., can also increase a person’s risk.
The researchers uncovered a link between a well-known bone pathway and the production of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. They found it by studying lactogenic hormones, which are understood to increase the growth and stimulate the production of pancreatic beta cells.
The researchers then attempted to identify which proteins are regulated by lactogens in the beta cells. They found Osteoprotegerin (OPG), a protein associated with bone structure and density.
When the researchers assessed the medical literature, they found that certain groups of people tend to have higher levels of OPG, including pregnant women and the obese. It is possible, therefore, that OPG may directly affect the growth and production of insulin-producing beta cells.
The team then discovered that OPG often binds itself to a protein and receptor pair, which have the effect of impairing the production of beta cells. However, OPG and osteoporosis drug Denosumab both prevent this impairment, which suggests that it may be possible to repurpose Denosumab in order to improve beta cell production in the pancreas.
“Our study identifies a molecular brake that inhibits both mouse and human beta cell replicatio,” said senior author Rupangi Vasavada of the Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City.
“It shows that two proteins, including an FDA-approved osteoporosis drug, can override and release this brake to induce proliferation of rodent and human beta cells.”
Once developed, the research could have great potential as a new treatment for diabetes. According to Vasavada:
“The findings suggest that there is potential for re-purposing this osteoporosis drug for the treatment of diabetes.”

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