A new pill may hold hope for reversing the effects of Type 2 diabetes, as well as for people experiencing chronic weight issues but choose not to undergo gastric bypass surgery, according to a newly published study in the journal Nature Materials by researchers at Harvard Medical School, and the Center for Weight Management and Metabolic Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.
The pill, currently in development, would duplicate the effects of gastric bypass surgery by temporarily coating the intestines and preventing the human digestive system from absorbing certain nutrients. It will also stop the blood-sugar spikes that often come after meals and can trigger the effects of diabetes, according to a summary of the new study by Science Daily.
“We envision a pill that a patient can take before a meal that transiently coats the gut to replicate the effects of surgery,” said Brigham and Women’s bioengineer Jeff Karp, one of the researchers who conducted the weight-loss pill study. He continued, “Over the last several years, we’ve been working with our surgical colleagues on this idea and have developed a material that meets an important clinical need.”
While there are several types of gastric bypass surgery, the common effect is to prevent food from being absorbed by the digestive system, according to the medical information site WebMD. The result can be rapid and drastic weight loss.
The researchers have dubbed their project “surgery in a pill,” according to a report by Boston radio station WBUR, and they say that they have seen dramatic improvements in diabetes following gastric bypass, effects they hope that their new drug will replicate.
“One of the remarkable observations after surgeries [is] that the patients, as well as losing weight, also experience significant improvement in their diabetes,” said Ali Tavakkoli co-director of the Center for Weight Management and Metabolic Surgery at Brigham and Women’s, and a lead author of the research paper. Tavakkoli said that the new drug will “hopefully achieve what the gastric bypass does by virtue of taking a pill alone.”
The compound tested on rats in the new study was derived from sucralfate, a drug that is already in use and legally prescribed for stomach and intestinal ulcers, according to a report by Harvard Medical School.
“The team further engineered the substance into a novel material that can coat the lining of the intestine without requiring activation by gastric acid. The engineered compound, referred to as LuCI (luminal coating of the intestine), can be made into a dry powdered form that can be encapsulated as a pill,” the medical school statement said.
The study found that in the rats who were given the LuCI compound before a meal, blood sugar levels dropped by almost half within an hour after their post-meal spike. But the effect of the drug wears off after about three hours, the researchers found, according to the Science Daily summary.