Two Steps to Treating Diabetes

Blocking glucagon, replacing insulin offers effective diabetes treatment, new study found.

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Sodas, candies and other sugary treats are sold almost everywhere in the US, including many schools, hospitals and pharmacies. Though not entirely to blame, excess sugar has contributed to a major diabetes epidemic. New research may have identified a double-punch method of treating diabetes.

A new study by researchers from the University of Geneva found that blocking the hormone glucagon, which raises sugar levels, in addition to replacing insulin could be the best way to keep most diabetics’ blood-sugar levels in check.

Both glucagon and insulin are hormones produced by the pancreas. They must remain in balance to keep blood-sugar levels steady. The body releases glucagon during periods of fasting or exercise to counteract the insulin.

In 2014, about 29 million people in the US had diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Diabetes, the seventh leading cause of death in the US, can cause serious health complications such as heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and lower-extremity amputations.

"Our research reveals why: the body needs to have some residual insulin production in order for a treatment blocking glucagon to work,” lead author Pedro Herrera said in a press release.

Herrera hails from the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

Previous studies have suggested that glucagon causes diabetes, not a lack of insulin, and that blocking glucagon levels instead of injecting insulin could be an effective diabetes treatment. However, this study found that blocking glucagon is only an effective treatment if some insulin is still being produced.

To conduct the study researchers blocked the insulin receptors in mice, and as a result the mice became severely diabetic.

According to the press release, about 75 percent of diabetics have only a few beta cells that produce insulin. Researchers speculate that in these patients, blocking glucagon as well as replacing insulin could be the most effective treatment.

Researchers also believe that this treatment could result in some of the glucagon-producing alpha cells converting into beta cells that produce more insulin.

This study was published in the scientific journal eLife.

It was funded in part by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. The authors disclosed that co-researcher Julie Moyers is an employee and shareholder of Eli Lilly and Company.

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