A drug used to treat stomach ulcers may also reverse diabetes and offer a new way to treat obesity.
The tablet coats the gut in a thin protective film that reduces the amount of fat, sugar and nutrients absorbed from food.
The U.S. scientists behind the drug, which is taken before meals, have dubbed it ‘surgery in a pill’ as they predict it could be as effective as gastric bypass surgery — where large parts of the gut are removed or re-routed.
The drug is based on a 40-year-old treatment for stomach ulcers, sucralfate, which is taken by tens of thousands of people in the form of pills or liquid.
Sucralfate is what’s known as a ‘coating’ agent, as it forms a paste when it is activated in the body. In its standard form, this happens in the stomach, where it forms a coating over ulcers, shielding the tissue from further damage and helping them heal.
The new pill is a special capsule packed with powdered sucralfate that’s designed to be released in the intestines. The powder then forms a coating on the surface of the small intestine, slowing down the activity of enzymes that help digest food, thereby reducing the absorption of nutrients.
Type 2 diabetes is mostly fuelled by obesity. The condition interferes with the body’s ability to mop up sugar from the bloodstream.
Raised blood sugar levels can, over time, damage the kidneys, eyes, nerves, heart and arteries. In recent years, weight loss surgery has proved to be very effective at tackling obesity and, in some cases, reversing type 2 diabetes.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, U.S., wanted to see if they could develop a tablet that would have the benefits of surgery without the risks, which include blood clots, wound infections and a blocked gut. They chose sucralfate because of its ability to form a coating.
The scientists altered the drug in a laboratory so it had a positive electric charge. This means that once the drug reaches the intestine, the positively charged molecules are attracted to negatively charged receptors in the lining.