As things stand, diabetes rates are set to rise. The CDC predicts that 1 in 3 American adults could have diabetes by the year 2050 if current trends stay the same. There is a strong correlation between obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes, and obesity is an independent risk factor for mortality, heart disease, hypertension, and other chronic diseases.
While there have been improvements in controlling and treating obesity through both lifestyle interventions and medication, not all treatments are effective for everyone. Researchers hope that a new treatment, a long-term, one-time injection, can effectively treat both obesity and insulin resistance and consequently, type 2 diabetes.
A new 2018 study on mice out of the University of Barcelona has found that an injection of genetically engineered firbroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) resulted in significantly reduced body weight and better insulin resistance without significant side effects. FGF21 is a naturally occurring hormone that serves to regulate energy use and could help the body achieve a state of homeostatis (where energy expenditure equal to caloric intake). The problem is that naturally occurring FGF21 doesn’t last long and tends to break down.
But a genetically modified version of the hormone was able to reduce body weight, reduce blood sugar and triglycerides, and increase insulin sensitivity in obese mice. What’s more, the injections also prevented obesity in mice fed a high-fat diet, and the effects lasted for longer than a year. The injection boosted the mice’s energy levels and raised their body temperature so that they burned more calories.
The study involved two groups of mice that were either fed a standard diet or a high-fat diet. Both groups gained weight: those on the standard diet grew to a healthy weight while those on the high-fat diet increased their weight by 72 percent, categorizing them as obese. The obese mice also developed insulin resistance.
The healthy-weight mice were then given a placebo injection while the overweight mice were injected with FGF21. After the single injection, both groups continued the same diets for about a year post injection.
The mice on the standard diet maintained their weight, but the mice receiving the FGF21 injections normalized their weight within a few weeks of injection despite not changing their diets. The mice on the high-fat diet became indistinguishable from the standard-diet mice. Their insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels also improved.
The experiment was repeated on older mice as risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes increases with age. Again, the obese mice given the FGF21 injection lost weight until they reached a healthy weight. Results in both cases were dose-dependent.
There was some concern that the injections would cause bone loss, but researchers found no significant difference between bone density of mice treated with FGF21 and those not treated.
Researchers concluded that, “FGF21 gene therapy holds great translational potential in the fight against insulin resistance, T2D, obesity, and related comorbidities.”
More animal studies are needed before the FGF21 injection can be used as a possible type 2 diabetes treatment in human trials.
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.