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[IP] Find may mean insulin without shots


Find may mean insulin without shots

New compound may offer diabetics insulin in a pill


May 6 Researchers who tested more than 50,000 natural and synthetic
substances say they have found a fungus compound that acts like insulin,
raising the possibility that diabetics in the future may take pills 
instead of shots. When the compound was tested on mice that have 
diabetes, the researchers found that it significantly lowered the sugar 
in the animals blood.

It offers the promise of an alternative approach in which patients would
not have to have insulin shots.  THE COMPOUND is a mimic of insulin,
the natural hormone that allows the body to metabolize sugar, the
researchers said.

This could potentially be used to replace insulin shots in diabetics, 
said Dr. Bei Zhang of Merck, the lead author of a study to be
published Friday in the journal Science. She cautioned, however, that 
it is still very early, and that years of research remain before the 
compound could be tested in humans.
About 175 million people worldwide, nearly 16 million of them in the
United States, suffer from diabetes. It can lead to blindness, heart
disease, limb loss and kidney disease.
There are two types. Type-I or juvenile diabetes is caused by the
destruction of insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas. Type-II, or
non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), affects many more 
people and is caused when the body becomes resistant to insulins 
In both types, cells are unable to absorb enough glucose, a sugar, to
work properly. Insulin is key to this and when there is either not 
enough, or the cells are not responding to it, the system goes haywire.
Millions of diabetics have to inject insulin daily to control their
blood sugar levels. There are also drugs that help enhance the effects 
of insulin.
Insulin is a large molecule that is destroyed in the stomach, so it
must be injected. Scientists have been searching for a substitute that 
can be swallowed.
The newly discovered compound, called L-783,281, was found by a team
that laboriously tested 50,000 substances collected from around the 
world, checking each one for its ability to mimic the action of insulin.
L-783,281 was found to be promising in test tube studies, so the
researchers carried it to the next step  testing on animals.
Two strains of mice that naturally develop diabetes were treated with
the compound and tests showed that L-783,281 helped the mouse cells to 
take glucose, or sugar, from the blood stream.
It did not seem to harm the mice.  Long-term treatment (up to 15
days) with therapeutic doses of L-783,281 did not affect food intake, 
body weight, organ weights or blood chemistry, they wrote.
Zhang said the compound works in much the same way as insulin.
L-783,281 links up with a specific molecule on the surface of each cell.
This activates an enzyme that sets off a series of biological steps,
enabling the cells to absorb and use sugar.

Zhang said that, unlike insulin, L-783,281 can be taken as pills.
The compound can be absorbed by the digestive system and still act on 
the cells of the body. Insulin is destroyed by digestion and, for this 
reason, must be given by injection, a regimen that is often difficult 
for patients to accept.
Dr. Robert Goldstein, vice president of research at the Juvenile
Diabetes Foundation, said the discovery of L-783,281 is a real advance 
in diabetes research.

It offers the promise of an alternative approach in which patients
would not have to have insulin shots, he said. But Goldstein cautioned 
that a great deal more study is needed before L-783,281 could be safely 
tested on humans.
This still needs a lot of work, he said.
Merck, like many other companies, has spent years collecting samples
of plants and animals from around the world for use in testing as drugs.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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