According to the World Health Organization, there are currently 347 million diabetics worldwide, with 90 percent of those people having type II diabetes specifically. It occurs when fat accumulates in places such as muscles, blood vessels and the heart, causing the cells in those areas to no longer be sufficiently responsive to insulin. This insulin resistance, in turn, causes blood glucose levels to rise to dangerous levels. Ultimately, it can result in things such as heart disease, strokes, blindness, kidney failure, and amputations. Fortunately, however, an international team of scientists has just announced a new way of treating the disease.

Currently, one of the main ways of treating type II diabetes involves switching the patient to a healthier diet and increasing the amount of exercise they get – the disease is most often caused by obesity. Additionally, oral medication can be used to increase insulin production and the body’s sensitivity to it, or to decrease glucose production. For approximately 30 percent of patients, however, such medication ceases to be effective after a few years, and they end up having to receive regular insulin injections.

The new treatment focuses on VEGF-B, a protein within the body that affects how fat is transported and stored. Using an antibody/drug known as 2H10, the scientists were able to block the signaling of VEGF-B in mice and rats, which subsequently kept fat from accumulating in the “wrong” areas of the animals – namely their muscles, blood vessels and hearts.

In one experiment, rodents that were bred to develop diabetes were given the antibody before onset of the disease. As a result, they never did develop type II diabetes. In other experiments, regular rats and mice were made to develop the disease, through obesity caused by a fat-rich diet. After receiving 2H10, however, progression of the disease was halted and reversed.

“We discovered VEGF-B back in 1995, and since then the VEGF-B project has been a lengthy sojourn in the wilderness, but now we're making one important discovery after the other,” said Prof. Ulf Eriksson of Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, which is leading the initiative. “In this present study we've shown that VEGF-B inhibition can be used to prevent and treat type II diabetes, and that this can be done with a drug candidate.”

A number of other institutions are also involved in the project, including the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Australian biopharmaceutical company CSL Limited, which is developing the drug.

A paper on the research was published this Wednesday in the journal Nature.