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Better Drugs for Diabetes?

New research has found that a crucial signaling pathway, already implicated in the development of cancer, is also linked to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Increased knowledge of the MEK/ERK pathwaycould pave the way for more effective treatment of diabetes.

The study, by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, also shed additional light on how a class of diabetes drugs, known as thiazolidinediones (TZDs), work to improve glucose metabolism.

“It’s been recognized that thiazolidinediones have tremendous benefits in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, but they also have significant risks,” said Alexander S. Banks, PhD, lead author and a researcher in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Hypertension at BWH. “The question is, can we minimize these adverse effects by modifying the drugs slightly or by approaching the pathway from a different direction?”

The researchers, who included Bruce Spiegelman, PhD, of the cancer biology department at Dana-Farber ultimately discovered the damaging role of a kinase (a kind of enzyme) known as ERK.

“A new class of drugs, aimed primarily at cancer, has been developed that inhibits ERK’s action. These drugs, known as MEK inhibitors, help to extend the lives of patients with advanced cases of melanoma,” said Banks. “One of the most exciting aspects of this paper is the concept that you could inhibit the abnormal activation of ERK seen in diabetes using these MEK inhibitors designed for treating cancer, but at lower, safer doses” for treating diabetes.

The findings were published in the journal Nature.

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