Tuesday 12 December 2017

Irish scientists make vital diabetes breakthrough

Researchers have found a series of new compounds whose anti-diabetic effects mimic those of exercise. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Researchers have found a series of new compounds whose anti-diabetic effects mimic those of exercise. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Greg Harkin

Irish scientists have discovered a new compound that could help reverse the effects of type 2 diabetes.

Researchers have found a series of new compounds whose anti-diabetic effects mimic those of exercise.

The findings mark the culmination of five years of work by a team led by Dr John Stephens from Maynooth's Department of Chemistry. The team included Professor John Findlay and Dr Darren Martin from the Maynooth University's department of biology, Dr Gemma Kinsella of Dublin Institute of Technology and collaborators at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Leeds.

Dr Stephens also recently discovered a compound whose anti-MRSA qualities pave the way for the development of a new class of antibiotic.

He is hoping clinical trials from his second scientific breakthrough could lead to a pill being available over the counter from pharmacies - but he warned it could be another five to seven years before this happens, and then only if trials are successful.

"The benefits of exercise for those suffering with type 2 diabetes have been well documented," said Dr Stephens, who is from Ballyshannon in Co Donegal. "The discovery of this series of new compounds that mimic these benefits is a significant development in the treatment of diabetes.

"We are now looking forward to our next phase of research, which will see us undertake further lab studies and early clinical trials.

"We are still a long way from seeing this reflected on the shelves in pharmacies; however, these compounds have the potential to become an important tool for the treatment of type 2 diabetes for future generations.

"We still have a long way to go and many hurdles to overcome, but this was a real team effort and we will continue our work over the years ahead."

The breakthrough comes at a time when diabetes is reaching epidemic levels. An estimated 200,000 people in Ireland suffer from diabetes, while some 370 million people worldwide have the condition, at an estimated annual healthcare cost of €500bn.

The worst cases can lead to blindness and amputation.

The new compound imitates the effects of exercise on the body at a cellular level.

During exercise, cells must convert more glucose into usable energy - adenosine triphosphate or ATP - than they do while in a rest state. The compound makes it harder for cells to convert glucose into ATP. This means the cells take up more glucose than they otherwise would, thereby minimising the elevated levels of glucose that exist in the blood of sufferers of type 2 diabetes.

Dr Stephens said the series of compounds discovered by him and the other scientists have shown an ability to improve glucose handling and to reduce weight gain in laboratory studies at significantly lower doses than those required by existing therapies.

As such, they may prevent some of the intestinal problems associated with the existing higher dose therapies. The compounds also showed a positive effect on weight, which in itself may help with the interlinked problems of weight gain and type 2 diabetes.

Maynooth University President Professor Philip Nolan said: "This is a fine example of best-in-class collaboration across scientific disciplines.

"Effective treatment for diabetes is one of the areas of medical research with the potential to improve the lives of extremely high numbers of people, as the numbers of those suffering worldwide continues to grow.

"I commend the research team and look forward to seeing the results of the next stages of research."

Irish Independent

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