Weight loss drugs could help diabetics

Bei Hu

Appetite suppressants might take away more than just late afternoon hunger pangs. A current University study is exploring whether or not they can effectively treat type II diabetes.
University researchers John Bantle and Bruce Redmon recently received a $200,000 grant from the National Diabetes Association to expand their investigation of two popular weight-control medications in long-term diabetes treatment.
“If this works, and these medicines cause weight loss and make the control of diabetes better and don’t produce serious side effects, this could be the preferred treatment for type II diabetes,” said Bantle, a professor of medicine at the University.
Bantle and Redmon’s research began last year. Currently, they are studying 26 patients who weigh more than 120 percent of their optimal body weight, as determined by insurance company standards. With the three-year grant, the researchers hope to increase the number of research subjects to 60.
People with type II diabetes are usually age 30 or older. They make up 90 to 95 percent of the diabetic population, according to Redmon, an assistant professor of medicine at the University.
Although the mortality rate of type II diabetes remains low, it can cause serious complications such as heart problems, blindness and kidney failure. Studies show type II diabetes patients are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than non-diabetic people.
Research has also demonstrated that about 80 percent of type II diabetes patients are overweight.
“People with type II diabetes make insulin, and they are resistant to it,” said Bantle. “And the number one thing that makes them resistant to insulin is being overweight.”
Thus, physicians have long recommended that such patients reduce their body weight by methods such as physical exercise and diet.
“The problem is, it didn’t work for most people,” said Bantle. “Most of them find it difficult or impossible (to lose weight through diet).”
In recent years, scientists have accepted the brain’s role in weight control. “We now believe that maybe it’s because energy intake and energy expenditure are carefully regulated by the brain,” Bantle said.
Thus, the central question becomes how to achieve significant and stable weight reduction by influencing what Bantle calls “the control center in the brain.”
Conventional treatment for type II diabetes involves the use of oral medicine and insulin shots. These medications, said Redmon, often suffice to keep the blood sugars at a reasonably low level. But patients usually have to take increased doses of medicine to sustain such effects. Moreover, said Bantle, such treatment often leads to weight gains.
Fenfluramine and phentermine, the drugs used in the study, are said to result in weight loss by reducing people’s appetite. Both of them have been in the market for more than 10 years but have gained popularity only in the past four or five years.
Despite their popularity, the drugs have been linked to such side-effects as dry mouth and diarrhea. People on these medications can also develop high blood pressure in the lungs. Such cases are rare but fatal, victimizing an estimated one in every 30,000 people who take the drugs.
The current study is structured to determine whether the drugs will effectively treat diabetes. Furthermore, doctors want to insure that the drugs are safe.
The study will take place over a two-year period. In the first year, researchers will study whether the drugs control weight. The second year will focus on long-term weight control effects of the drugs.