Early Study Points to Diabetes Drug Controlled by Light

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TUESDAY, Oct. 14, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- In the future, could people with type 2 diabetes manage their medications with a pulse of light? A preliminary new study suggests it may be possible.

In the study, scientists showed that the prototype drug -- for now just called JB253 -- stimulated insulin release from pancreatic cells in the lab when they were exposed to blue light.

"In principle, this type of [light-activated] therapy may allow better control over blood sugar levels because it can be switched on for a short time when required after a meal," study co-leader Dr. David Hodson, of Imperial College London in England, said in a college news release. "It should also reduce complications by targeting drug activity to where it's needed in the pancreas," he said.

The findings were published Oct. 14 in the journal Nature Communications.

Hodson explained that currently, diabetes care is far from an exact science. In some cases, he said, drugs designed to trigger the release of insulin from the pancreas can cause too much insulin release -- causing blood sugar levels to drop too low -- or lead to other side effects that affect organs such as the heart and brain.

In the new study, Hodson's team adapted an existing type of diabetes drug called a sulfonylurea so that it changed shape when exposed to blue light, but would be inactive when not exposed to the light.

Only a small amount of light would be needed to activate the drug, and blue LEDs stuck to the skin would likely be sufficient.

"So far, we've created a molecule that has the desired effect on human pancreatic cells in the lab," Hodson said. But he stressed that "there's a long way to go before a therapy is available to patients, but this remains our ultimate goal."

"Sulfonylureas help many people to manage type 2 diabetes even though, like other medications, they can have side effects. Work on light-activated medications is still at a relatively early stage, but this is nevertheless a fascinating area of study that, with further research, could help to produce a safer, more tightly controllable version of this important therapy," one outside expert, Dr. Richard Elliott of Diabetes UK, said in the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about diabetes medicines.