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Repurposed cancer drug to help replace insulin therapy for diabetes

IANS May 08, 2024

A drug used for the treatment of pancreatic cancer can be repurposed to replace insulin therapy among people with diabetes, scientists have found.

Without enough insulin, diabetics could be at risk for hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar that can damage blood vessels and organs as well as cause heart attacks, stroke, and other serious complications.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggested that focal adhesion kinase (FAK) inhibitors, known to reduce tumour burden in pancreatic cancer, could be a new avenue as a replacement for insulin therapy in diabetic patients.

In an experiment in a model that started in 2016, the team from the University of Pittsburgh deleted one of two copies of the gene encoding an enzyme called focal adhesion kinase (FAK).

Both the pancreas as well as a cluster of cells in the organ looked weird. While the pancreas looked "like it was trying to regenerate after an injury", the cells were "expressing both insulin and amylase".

The cluster of cells looked like a combination of acinar cells -- that manufacture amylase, a digestive enzyme, and beta-cells -- which produce the blood sugar-regulating hormone insulin.

"There were three possible explanations for what we saw in the mutant experimental model," said Esni. "It could have just been an artefact of our experiment, beta cells could have started making amylase or acinar cells could have started producing insulin -- which would be the holy grail."

The team further showed that a “FAK-inhibiting drug, which has been studied in cancer treatment, converted acinar cells into acinar-derived insulin-producing (ADIP) cells and helped regulate blood glucose in a diabetic experimental model and a single non-human primate”.

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