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Longevity Briefs: Repurposed Drugs Could Fight Obesity And Diabetes

Posted on 18 October 2022

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: Repurposed drugs are drugs that have been originally developed for one purpose, but are later found to be effective for an altogether different disease. Minoxidil, for example, was originally developed to treat hypertension, but was also found to treat hair loss. Increasingly sophisticated computer programs and machine learning algorithms are making it easier to identify such drugs. Computer programs can be used to analyse drug databases and search for existing compounds that could interact with a given disease in a previously unforeseen way.

Obesity and diabetes are responsible for a significant amount disability and death in the developed world, and this problem is getting worse. New drugs that can treat these diseases are highly sought after. In the case of obesity, drugs can be helpful for people who struggle to lose weight through conventional dieting and exercise, or can be used to support weight loss efforts. Repurposed drugs are attractive solution, as they have already proven their safety in clinical trials. These drugs may already be in large scale production and distribution, decreasing the time and expense required to bring them to market for a new disease.

In 2019, obesity was the world’s fifth leading risk factor for premature death according to the Global Burden of Disease study.

What did the researchers do: At the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Professor Murray Cairns and Dr William Reay have been studying the genetic pathways linked to the onset of diabetes and obesity. Using a computer program, they were able to cross-reference this information with what is known about the pathways targeted by existing drugs. In this way, they were able to identify promising candidates for repurposing.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: In the case of obesity, repurposable drugs included the muscle relaxant baclofen and the chemotherapy drug carfilzomib. For diabetes, a group of drugs for heart failure called cardiac glycosides were singled out, as was a breast cancer drug called palbociclib. Researchers also found several drugs that might be able to treat obesity and diabetes at the same time, including sucralfate, a drug for stomach ulcers, and regorafenib, yet another cancer drug used to treat various cancers in the digestive system.

One advantage of focussing on the genetic pathways involved in obesity and diabetes is that it could allow us to select drugs best suited for each individual’s genetic risk. However, clinical trials will still be needed to confirm whether the drugs identified here can treat these diseases in the way that is hoped.

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