New research led by Victor Shengkan Jin from Rutgers University, and published in the journal Nature Medicine, shows that a modified version of the drug niclosamide, which is used to kill intestinal parasites, can also attack diabetes at its source.
Jin and his colleagues managed to eliminate fat in the liver of lab mice using the modified form of niclosamide, called niclosamide ethanolmine salt (NEN). This “improved the animals’ ability to use insulin correctly and reduce blood sugar,” Jin said.
Essentially, type 2 diabetes occurs when excessive fat accumulates in the liver and muscle tissue, rendering the body unable to effectively use insulin to metabolize blood sugar in the body. As a result, glucose remains in the bloodstream, damaging tissue and causing blindness, kidney damage, heart disease, and other health problems.
With this new drug able to rid the liver of excessive fat, it is hoped that it will be able to make it possible for the body to start using insulin effectively again. The drug burned excess fat through a process called mitochondrial uncoupling, which Jin likened to an automobile.
“The cell is like a car and the mitochondria are the engine,” Jin said in a statement. “What we’re doing inside cells is like putting the car’s transmission into neutral by uncoupling it from the transmission. Then you step on the gas so the engine runs full throttle but the car doesn’t move. If too much of the fuel in the cell is fat, you keep burning it until the fuel gauge reaches empty. Without the interference of fat, you hope that sugar will then enter the cell normally.”
Jin theorized that once the fat from the liver and muscle tissues are cleared, the cells will be able to respond to insulin, enabling them to interact with glucose, and reversing diabetes entirely.
The drug hasn’t been tested on humans yet, but its results in mice are seen as highly encouraging.