Life Wellbeing Tiny miracle pills could end diabetes’ lethal impact on the liver and pancreas
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Tiny miracle pills could end diabetes’ lethal impact on the liver and pancreas

Medicinal capsules the size of molecules may heal the more devastating effects of diabetes. Photo: Getty
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Australian researchers have developed tiny capsules that are able to effectively target the liver and pancreas and reduce the inflammatory effects of type 2 diabetes.

The research is significant because inflammation is one of the main drivers of catastrophic complications for diabetics, who become prone to heart attacks, strokes, kidney problems, periodontal diseases and other, related complications including diabetic foot syndrome, infections and ulcers that lead to amputation.

Because inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or toxins – and can’t be entirely suppressed without dire consequences – problematic inflammation in vital organs and blood vessels requires a carefully targeted response.

To this end, researchers from Curtin University have used nano-capsules (molecular-sized pills) loaded with a combination of human-based bile acids and the lipid-lowering drug Probucol to target the inflammatory effects of diabetes in mouse models over a six month period.

Problematic cholesterol drug becomes a hero

Lead author Dr Hani Al-Salami, from the Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute (CHIRI) and the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, said the capsules were designed to protect the drugs during the digestive and absorptive process – which enhanced their uptake in the liver and pancreas, “which are typically inflamed in diabetes”.

Dr Hani Al-Salami is seeking funding for human trials for a new approach to treating diabetes. Photo: Curtin University

Dr Al-Salami said the combination of bile acids and Probucol were effective in reducing inflammation, but also the high-blood sugar levels that characterise the disease.

The choice of Probucol was an interesting one. Developed in the 1960s, Probucol is a highly potent antioxidant that significantly lowered LDL (bad cholesterol). But there were problems, mainly that only two per cent of the drug was absorbed by the body – and the rest is excreted, potentially damaging kidneys.

Deployed at a nano-level, though, the drug was efficiently absorbed into liver and pancreas cells.

But why use a drug that lowers lipids as an anti-inflammatory? The short version: the chronic inflammation associated with diabetes was for a long time poorly understood, and generally thought to be caused by glucose.

But in 2016, US researchers argued that much fat in the diet promotes insulin resistance by spurring chronic inflammation. They discovered, in mice, that when certain immune cells can’t manufacture fat, the mice don’t develop diabetes and inflammation, even when consuming a high-fat diet.

In August, scientists from the University of Kentucky demonstrated that changes to mitochondria—the engine-room of cells—drive chronic inflammation in cells exposed to certain types of fats,

So is nano the way to go in treating diabetes?

Dr Al-Salami explained that the research findings showed great promise for future diabetic treatments, but further research was needed to test whether the treatment could also be effective in humans.

While organs can be successfully targeted in nano delivery systems, the capsules can’t be wholly controlled and will travel deep within the body.

This is why nano treatments for diabetes – and there have been plenty at the experimental level, see here and here – haven’t progressed to clinical trials.

However, Dr Al-Salami may have solved the problem. His capsules have a built-in neutralising agent – the role of the bile acids. This has emboldened him to apply for funding – twice – to test his capsules on humans.

“Gaining funding is complicated, but I believe this is worth persisting with,” he said. “These tiny capsules may work to reduce the progression and severity of diabetes.”

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