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Muscle Relaxant May Hold Key to Diabetes Cure

Update Date: Nov 26, 2014 01:12 PM EST

A commonly prescribed muscle relaxant can help treating a rare form of diabetes.

Researchers at Washington University's School of Medicine have shown that a drug called Dantrolene can prevent death of insulin producing cells, thereby controlling diabetes. Elevated levels of an enzyme Calpain caused the cell death. Through animal and cell studies, researchers found that control of Calpain can prevent cell death caused by a rare condition called Wolfram syndrome which causes type 1 diabetes. Besides lack of control over blood glucose levels, the condition also causes hearing and vision loss. People with the syndrome usually die by the age of 40, Fox News reported.

"Wolfram is the most difficult form of diabetes because these patients have problems with blood sugar and so many other challenges," said senior investigator Fumihiko Urano in a press release.

Cell studies were done on stem cells obtained from the skin of people with the syndrome and relatives. Growth factors were induced to cultivate insulin producing cells and brain cells. Researchers found that these cells produced elevated levels of Calpain which caused cell death.

"We also found that dantrolene was not toxic to cells grown from the skin samples donated by patients' relatives. The drug interfered with cell death in cells from Wolfram patients but did not harm cells that came from parents and siblings," Urano said.

The drug is approved by FDA which makes it easier to push through to clinical trials. It is currently prescribed for conditions like cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis.

"We'd like to test the drug first in adult patients with Wolfram syndrome, and if we get positive results, we could extend the trial to children," Urano said.

The study's results have encouraged researchers to consider the drug as possible treatment for type 1 and type 2 diabetes due to calpain's role in these conditions.

The findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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