Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center report in a study that analyzing blood sugar regulatory actions of the specific hormone ghrelin may lead to the development of new diabetes treatments.
The study was based partly on a resident physician’s earlier findings. Dr. Roger Unger, professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern, had discovered that blood glucose (sugar) is tightly regulated by the opposing actions of hormones insulin and glucagon. By taming receptors for the hormone glucagon, this prevents or corrects dangerously high blood sugar levels in different types of diabetes.
Dr. Jeffrey Zigman, senior author of the study, says Unger “proposed that blocking or neutralizing glucagon action may serve as a new treatment for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. This idea formed the basis of our current study.” Zigman and his team found that, like glucagon, the hormone ghrelin is also vital to blood glucose control.
In this study, the team’s findings showed when glucagon activity was blocked in lab-controlled mice, hormone ghrelin levels rose. As a result, this helped prevent the mice from having dangerously low blood sugar levels develop, also known as hypoglycemia.
UT Southwestern reported the experiment’s success will hopefully help patients suffering from diabetes. Currently, pharmaceutical companies are developing drugs targeting glucagon receptors to treat diabetes, including those that neutralize glucagon receptors or drugs that will block glucagon receptors (so that ghrelin levels will be high, and help stabilize blood sugar).
“The body’s normal ghrelin response should protect diabetic individuals being treated with agents that target glucagon receptors from experiencing hypoglycemia,” Dr. Zigman said in a statement. “[While] a potential side effect with any treatment that lowers blood sugar is that hypoglycemia may develop … we would like to determine whether the administration of ghrelin or a compound that mimics the action of ghrelin could help correct that hypoglycemia.”