Anti-inflammatory medication could help treat type 2 diabetes, study finds

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — An anti-inflammatory medication used for a variety of conditions could also be effective in treating type 2 diabetes, scientists with UC San Diego and the University of Michigan reported Wednesday.

In a study published in the journal Cell Metabolism, the researchers said they found a molecular signature in patients who responded to the drug amlexanox, which is used to treat asthma patients in Japan and other afflictions. 

In a study of 42 obese patients with type 2 diabetes, half were given the drug for three months and the other half a placebo. Some, but not all, of the group given amlexanox responded, said Alan Saltiel, director of the UC San Diego Institute for Diabetes and Metabolic Health. 

"We didn’t understand why, so we did a molecular analysis from biopsies of fat cells we took from patients at the beginning and end of the study," Saltiel said.

"In the responder group, the level of inflammation in fat was higher than in the non-responder group at the beginning of the study, indicating that there is something about inflammation that predisposes a person to respond," he said. "And, what was really amazing was that there were more than 1,100 gene changes that occurred exclusively in the responders."

According to UCSD, blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, weight and liver fat were measured. A biopsy of fat cells from each patient’s midsection was taken before and after the trial to measure changes in gene expression.

The researchers said amlexanox inhibits a pair of enzymes that are activated in obese mice, causing a drop in energy expenditure or reduction in calories burned. Giving obese mice the drug caused them to lose weight, while their sensitivity to insulin increased, improving their diabetes and fatty liver disease.

The human trial revealed that gene changes that occurred in the mouse model also happened in the human responder group. Blood sugar in the clinical trial patients went down as genes involved in the expenditure of energy changed, the scientists said. 

Saltiel said amlexanox was promising as a type 2 diabetes treatment, but numerous questions still needed to be resolved regarding the proper dosage, frequency and other issues.

He said he plans to dive deeper into the gene changes to better understand which are most important, which affect liver fat, which translate into changes in blood sugar levels and more. He is planning a new human clinical trial with colleagues at Michigan.

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla assisted with the study, which was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.

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