The Salk scientists discovered that sustained treatment with the protein doesn't merely keep blood sugar under control, but also reverses insulin insensitivity, the underlying physiological cause of diabetes. Equally exciting, the newly developed treatment doesn't result in side effects common to most current diabetes treatments.
Ronald M. Evans, director of Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory, said that controlling glucose was a dominant problem in the society and FGF1 offered a new method to control glucose in a powerful and unexpected way.
Type 2 diabetes could be brought on by excess weight and inactivity, has skyrocketed over the past few decades in the United States and around the world. Almost 30 million Americans were estimated to have the disease, where glucose builds up in the bloodstream because not enough sugar-carting insulin was produced or because cells have become insulin-resistant and ignoring signals to absorb sugar.
The researchers found that the FGF1 treatment had a number of advantages over the diabetes drug Actos, which was associated with side effects ranging from unwanted weight gain to dangerous heart and liver problems. Importantly, FGF1 even at high doses did not trigger these side effects or cause glucose levels to drop to dangerously low levels, a risk factor associated with many glucose-lowering agents.
Instead, the injections restored the body's own ability to naturally regulate insulin and blood sugar levels, keeping glucose amounts within a safe range effectively reversing the core symptoms of diabetes.
The mechanism of FGF1 still isn't fully understood nor is the mechanism of insulin resistance but the researchers discovered that the protein's ability to stimulate growth was independent of its effect on glucose, bringing the protein a step closer to therapeutic use.