Repurposed drug helps obese mice lose weight, improve metabolic function

Posted on 15 May 2020

Repurposed drug helps obese mice lose weight, improve metabolic function

Disulfiram is a drug that has been used to treat alcohol dependence for decades. It inhibits an enzyme involved in the processing of alcohol in the liver, causing a buildup of acetaldehyde. This makes alcohol extremely unpleasant to drink, causing the effects of a hangover to be felt almost immediately upon consumption.

Researchers became interested in disulfiram after this class of drug was used to treat type 2 diabetes in rats. Here, a study reports that disulfiram can normalise weight and reverse metabolic damage in obese mice, in the absence of exercise, and with no apparent negative side effects. These benefits may stem from the drug’s anti-inflammatory properties.

The mice in the remaining two groups, with either a low or high dose of disulfiram added to their still-fatty food, showed a dramatic decrease in their weight and related metabolic damage. Mice on the high disulfiram dose lost as much as 40% of their body weight in just four weeks, effectively normalizing their weight to that of obese mice who were switched back to standard diet. Mice in either disulfiram dose diet group became leaner and showed significant improvement in blood glucose levels on par with the mice who were returned to standard diet. Disulfiram treatment, which has few harmful side effects in humans, also appeared to protect the pancreas and liver from damage caused by pre-diabetic type metabolic changes and fat build up usually caused by eating a high-fat diet.

The research team stresses that these results are based on animal studies, and they cannot be extrapolated to any potential benefits for human at this point. It is recommended that disulfiram not be used off-label for weight management outside of the context of clinical trials. Still, given the findings, they are planning future steps for studying disulfiram’s potential, including a controlled clinical study to test if it could help individuals with morbid obesity lose weight, as well as deeper investigation into the drug’s molecular mechanisms and potential for combining with other therapeutic interventions.

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