Magazine article Science News

Ancient Wisdom: Chinese Extract May Yield Diabetes Treatment

Magazine article Science News

Ancient Wisdom: Chinese Extract May Yield Diabetes Treatment

Article excerpt

A plant extract used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat type 2 diabetes could form the basis for new treatments for the disease, scientists now report.

In some cases of type 2 diabetes, a person's pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin, a hormone that prompts cells to take in blood sugar. Studies have indicated that a subo stance called uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2), which is also secreted by pancreatic cells, reduces how much insulin is produced.

Lab animals that have the symptoms of type 2 diabetes often have high concentrations of UCP2, says diabetes researcher Bradford Lowell of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Animals engineered to lack the protein typically resist becoming diabetic even when they have risk factors such as obesity.

These findings suggest that inhibiting UCP2 might alleviate type 2 diabetes, says Lowell. However, no drug is known to block the protein's action.

In a search for UCP2-inhibiting compounds, Lowell's colleague Chen-Yu Zhang tested an extract made from the fruits of Gardenia jasminoides. Chinese-medicine practitioners have used pods from this shrub, also known as the cape jasmine, for thousands of years to treat type 2 diabetes.

Zhang, who now works at Nanjing University in China, Lowell, and their colleagues found that the extract stimulated pancreas cells taken from normal mice to secrete insulin. However, cells from mice engineered to lack UCP2 didn't respond. …

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