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Once-a-year drug could spell the end of daily insulin injections for type 2 diabetics
A newly discovered hormone – betatrophin – could revolutionise the treatment of type 2 diabetesIt could halt the development of the conditionIn mice the hormone was shown to increase the number of insulin-producing beta cells up to 30-fold

By
Fiona Macrae Science Correspondent

PUBLISHED:

16:00 GMT, 25 April 2013

|

UPDATED:

16:04 GMT, 25 April 2013

Diabetics could be freed from the need to inject themselves by the development of a once-a-year drug

Diabetics could be freed from the need to inject themselves by the development of a once-a-year drug

Millions of diabetics could be freed from the need to inject themselves several times a day by the development of a once-a-year drug.

Scientists have discovered a hormone that could ‘dramatically’ improve the treatment of the condition that is becoming increasingly common as waistlines expand.

The researchers, from Harvard University in the U.S., said: ‘If this could be used in people, it could eventually mean that instead of taking insulin injections three times a day, you might be able to take this hormone once a week or once a month, or in the best case, maybe once a year.’

The work is still at an early stage but it is thought that the betatrophin hormone may even have the power to halt type 2 diabetes in its tracks.

In people with type 2, or adult-onset diabetes, cells in the pancreas do not make enough insulin – a hormone key in the conversion of sugar into energy – and the insulin they do make does not work properly.

The condition is often controlled initially with a stringent diet and exercise regime but many sufferers will see their health worsen over time and will eventually need tablets or insulin injections.

Rather than simply giving insulin, the Harvard researchers looked for a way of boosting its production in the body.

This led them to a hormone that they christened betatrophin.

Given to mice, it raised numbers of insulin-producing beta cells up to 30-fold, the journal Cell reports.

Excitingly, the ‘enormous’ number of new cells only made insulin when needed – something that should lead to more natural blood sugar levels and better health.

Complications of high blood sugar include heart disease, blindness, kidney disease and nerve and circulatory damage, which at its worst can lead to amputations.

Researcher Professor Doug Melton said the discovery had left him so excited that he could hardly sleep.

Given to mice, the new hormone raised numbers of insulin-producing beta cells up to 30-fold

Given to mice, the new hormone raised numbers of insulin-producing beta cells up to 30-fold

He added: ‘Our idea is relatively simple.

‘We would provide this hormone, the type 2 diabetic will make more of their insulin-producing cells and this will slow down, if not stop, the progression of their diabetes.’

Drug companies have already seized on the idea and the hormone could be tested on people for the first time in as little as three years.

However, the need to show it to be safe and effective in large numbers of people means it is around a decade away from the market.

It is thought that one in 20 Britons has diabetes, with type 2 accounting for 90 per cent of the cases.

Although the US breakthrough is mainly aimed at this form of the condition it may also be useful in treating the other form, type 1 diabetes, which usually develops in childhood or adolescence.