You may have read that researchers have developed a longer-lasting and more effective treatment for type-2 diabetes that needs only be taken once a week or even once a month.
It’s certainly the case if you’re a mouse, on which the new treatment was successfully tested.
Humans will have to wait at least five years before the treatment appears in their bathroom cupboards.
But there is a genuine breakthrough here, because the treatment is derived from a curious protein produced by the liver that wasn’t known to exist until about five years ago.
There is a need for new treatments because the most commonly prescribed medications have side effects for many patients, and reportedly lose their efficacy over time in 5 to 10 per cent of cases.
Implicit in the new research is that boosting the production by the liver of this protein, SMOC1 (pronounced ‘smoke one’), may work as a strategy to control errant blood sugar levels, although the researchers aren’t pursuing that strategy.
Instead they’ve engineered a long-lasting version of SMOC1 to be trialled by a pharmaceutical company. Talks are pending.
How did this come about?
The liver, like the pancreas, has an endocrine or hormonal function. University of Melbourne researchers say it’s only now they realise how complex that process is, having recently identified more than 2000 proteins released by the liver. One of these was SMOC1.
Lead author of the new study and University of Melbourne senior research fellow Dr Magdalene Montgomery said: “We discovered SMOC1 as a protein that was secreted by the liver when blood glucose levels are high, suggesting that SMOC1 might play a role in blood glucose control. This turned out to be true.”
The protein’s initial discovery was in mouse liver cells. The researchers found that SMOC1 was released when liver cells accumulated excess fat.
But then SMOC1 levels were found to decline in the blood of people who were insulin resistant or pre-diabetic.
Further testing, in diabetic mice, suggested that SMOC1 was more effective at improving blood glucose control than metformin, the medication most commonly prescribed to newly patients.
It was also found to reduce fatty liver and the high blood cholesterol levels that commonly plague type-2 diabetes patients.
From pills every day to once a week
Metformin is prescribed to more than 120 million people globally.
By way of disclosure, I’ve been taking metformin twice a day for about year, since I was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes.
For most patients it works well and is safe, but many experience side effects including heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and weight loss.
I’ve managed to keep my weight down: I walk 10 kilometres a day, no matter the weather, and am mostly vegetarian, but metformin plays a part in keeping the weight off. I haven’t had any unpleasant side effects … well, maybe occasional violent flatulence (a concession to the haters out there) depending on what I eat.
However, because I was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes with dangerously high blood sugar levels, and at the age of 60, there is a possibility that metformin might stop working so well for me. This means I’d need additional medication and in the long run I could end up on insulin.
One issue: About once a week I forget to take the pills (one in the morning two in the evening).
Dr Montgomery told The New Daily that if SMOC1 works as well in humans as it does in mice, I could get by on a single injection a week.
With further tweaking to the half-life of the protein, that could be stretched out to once a month.
But it’s early days.