Diabetes, in its severe form, leaves people with no option other than regular artificial insulin injections to survive. This is the form where the production of insulin in the pancreas is halted or not enough. Insulin therapy comes with its own risks, one of which is serious cardiovascular and metabolic issues in the long run. It is also hard to dose.
Several years have been spent by the scientists at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) trying to find an alternative therapy around the S100A9 protein. Scientists have now delivered evidence that the protein can enhance metabolism in the deficiency of insulin considerably. They have also discovered an anti-inflammatory effect by decoding the biological tools at work. The discovery could be crucial for more than just diabetes. Nature Communications journal has the results published.
Insulin therapy has saved millions of people suffering from type 1 and severe type 2 diabetes over the course of a century till 2021. It is still risky as too low or too high a dose could prove to be fatal. Roberto Coppari, Coordinator at the Diabetes Centre of UNIGE Faculty of Medicine as well as a Professor at the Department of Cell Physiology and Metabolism, said “Life-threatening hypoglycemia, negative impact on fat metabolism and increased cholesterol: these are some severe side effects of insulin. This is why we are looking to develop complementary or alternative treatments that are more effective and less dangerous”.
The team on the case found out that the protein acts in the liver by activating TLR4 receptor situated at the membrane of certain cells that are the primary functional cells of the liver. This is good news for the pharma industry because it means that the protein can be administered via injection rather than needing to enter the liver cells.
A deficit of insulin can cause diabetic ketoacidosis in people suffering from diabetes. Diabetic ketoacidosis can cause a rapid increase in ketones and make the blood acidic by reducing the level of pH. 2% to 4% of type 1 diabetes patients are faced with this fatal crisis annually.
Results were completed by inspecting the blood of severe insulin-deficient patients at the emergency room. According to the scientists, an insufficient natural increase in protein was noticed.
Combining drugs is not a new idea in the research on the topic. Prior research fixated on drugs that escalated insulin sensitivity. Roberto Coppari explained that this ends up with the same results only with fewer doses. He also mentioned that the new idea is to work individually and not depend on insulin. It will also not disrupt fat metabolism or trigger hypoglycemia.
Even though the scientists believe the protein can be administered alone, they will start out testing their drug in combination with small insulin doses. They have not closed the door on the possibility of administering the protein alone, and believe it could happen in the future under certain conditions. Diatheris, a start-up company is formed by Giorgio Ramadori and Roberto Coppari to move forward with innovative therapy. The company has the support of UNITEC, which is the technology transfer office of UNIGE, and also FONGIT, the foundation that supports technological entrepreneurship in the Geneva area.