Researchers have announced they are working on creating a drug which they hope will capture the benefits of exercise in pill form.
The team from Saint Louis University want to build on previous work in a bid to create a tablet which will help ease the burden of type 2 diabetes.
Co-researcher Dr Thomas Burris, chair of pharmacology and physiology at the university, has previously developed a drug which targets the protein called REV-ERB, which appears to mimic exercise.
Being active on a regular basis has been proven many times to help control type 2 diabetes and can contribute to weight loss when combined with a healthy diet.
Dr Burris said: “If you exercise, it’s effectively a treatment for diabetes and obesity as you increase the metabolic rate of muscle. You develop a more efficient muscle. That’s what you get from exercise. You develop more endurance and that is good for your metabolic function.
“Our drug compounds are doing similar things. They make muscles look like they’re exercising, turning on the genes that get activated during exercise, even if no exercise is happening.”
Although it is unlikely a drug will ever be able to fully replicate the benefits of exercise, Dr Burris’ work could copy the way activity affects muscle metabolism.
The study will continue to look at nuclear receptors, which sense different levels of hormones and help to control gene expression.
There are many other drugs that work in a similar way, including the cancer treatment tamoxife, contraceptio, a heart failure drug and thyroid replacement therapy.
Dr Burris said: “In many cases of illness, signaling is off. We can correct signals by dialing the hormone messages up or down, mimicking hormones or blocking them.
“Nuclear receptors are typically very good drug targets. However, because they control gene transcriptio, they are tricky. Though we want to discover how to turn a receptor up or down, it’s important to find a ligand that won’t do too much, which could cause side effects.”
The team have been given $2.4 million from the US Department of Defense and $1.74 million from the National Institutes of Health.
The treatment is theoretical at the moment and research trials will need to show whether the drug has promise.
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