Tokyo: Japanese researchers said today they had moved a step closer to an oral treatment for diabetes, offering hope of a breakthrough against a disease racking an increasingly obese world.
Scientists at the University of Tokyo said they have created a compound that helps the body to control glucose in the bloodstream.
Glucose is a fuel that is vital to the functioning of organs all over the body, but too much of it is bad news. In some people it leads to Type 2 diabetes, a condition that can cause heart disease, strokes and kidney failure.
Doctors say the incidence of Type 2 diabetes has rocketed over the last few decades, a factor they blame largely on the growing number of overweight people.
Studies have shown that obese people tend to have lower levels of adiponectin -- a hormone that regulates glucose and increases the effectiveness of insulin.
Now researchers in Japan have developed a compound they named AdipoRon that mimics the effects of the hormone. Crucially, unlike adiponectin, which is broken down as it passes through the gut, AdipoRon survives unscathed all the way to the blood.
AdipoRon could be "a lead compound" in a possible oral treatment for diabetes, according to Toshimasa Yamauchi, a member of the research team and lecturer at the Graduate School of Medicine at the University of Tokyo.
"We aim to launch clinical tests in a few years," he told AFP.
Doctors advise people with Type 2 diabetes to eat healthily and exercise, but the researchers said that sometimes proves too much of a challenge.
"Dietary therapy is not easy even for healthy people, no matter whether or not they are obese or have disease," they said in a press release.
"The opportunities for exercise have inevitably reduced drastically as society has become more automated.
"A compound that could imitate dietary and exercise treatments and realise health benefits" has long been a desired goal in the field, said the team, whose work was published in the online version of Nature.