A drug used to treat arthritis has been shown to lower the blood glucose levels of mice in a study carried out in China.
Leflunomide reduces inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune condition that affects around 1% of the world’s population, and new findings suggest the drug may also help combat insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes.
Professor Xiulong Xu and his team from Institute of Comparative Medicine based at Yangzhou University explored the reasons behind the benefits by testing the drug on two different mouse models of type 2 diabetes.
In both studies results showed that leflunomide was able to stabilise blood glucose levels and led to cells beginning to respond to insulin again.
Prof Xu said: “We studied how leflunomide works at a molecular level, and found that it targets a protein involved in desensitising the insulin receptor, which is responsible for instructing the cells to start absorbing sugar from the bloodstream.”
But the drug also has an impact on other molecular targets, so more research is required to establish that the observed outcomes beneficial to type 2 diabetes are specifically down to the impact of leflunomide on the insulin receptor.
Prof Xu added: “We know some inflammatory factors can also desensitise the insulin receptor, and leflunomide is an anti-inflammatory, so it may be that it controls blood sugar partly by its anti-inflammatory effect.”
Now that the team has provided that the drug is effective in mice, they plan to investigate whether it has any benefits for humans.
The research was published by the Journal of Endocrinology.

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