Could a New Pill Simulate the Effects of Exercise in People with Diabetes?

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Staying physically active is essential for good health, especially for those with diabetes. Exercise increases insulin sensitivity and can improve heart health. However, those with diabetes must carefully monitor their body’s response to exercise and how it affects their blood sugar. Sometimes maintaining regular physical activity can be difficult – even more so if there are other co-existing health problems.

But a new pill may change all that by enabling people with diabetes to experience the effects of exercise without the physical exertion. The drug works by activating a gene pathway normally stimulated by running resulting in improved stamina and endurance as well as increased fat burning. This is encouraging for those with diabetes because the body typically burns sugar (glucose) before fat because fat-burning takes longer. This new drug activates fat burning and allows sugar to be used to support brain function.

The gene central to the study is PPAR delta, or PPARD. When mice were given the drug for eight weeks to continually activate PPARD, they experienced less weight gain, improved blood sugar control, and increased endurance. Their insulin responsiveness was on par with that of long-distance runners.  Mice given the drug were able to run on a treadmill for 270 minutes before becoming exhausted, compared to just 160 minutes for those mice not given the drug.

According to Weiwei Fan, first author of the research paper and a research associate at the Salk Institute where the study is being carried out, “Exercise actives PPARD, but we’re showing that you can do the same thing without mechanical training. It means you can improve endurance to the equivalent level as someone in training, without all of the physical effort.”

This drug could open the door to new treatment options for people with diabetes by triggering fat burning and supporting improved insulin sensitivity. Currently the only study trials have been on mice, but there is interest in developing clinical trials for humans. Scientists are continuing to study potential therapeutic applications and the effect they have on health.

The Diabetes Research Connection is committed to supporting these types of innovative research efforts by raising funds for early career scientists studying type 1 diabetes. Research funding is essential for leading the way to breakthroughs in treatment, prevention, and potential cures for diabetes. To learn more about how the Diabetes Research Connection is making a difference, visit us online.

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