Media Releases

U of T researcher reveals the gut’s role in effects of diabetes drug

April 10, 2015

TORONTO, ON – Two new studies show the potential of targeting the gut in treating diabetes.

Until now, scientists always assumed Metformin, the world’s most common type 2 diabetes treatment, worked directly on the liver. But U of T researchers found it acts first on the gut. They found the same results when testing resveratrol, the compound found in red wine.

Tony Lam, a Professor of Physiology and Medicine, and his team showed that the gut is responsible for sensing both Metformin and resveratrol and then signalling the brain to reduce glucose production in the liver. Uncovering the gut’s crucial role in diabetes treatment could help scientists design medications that focus on the gut, rather than the liver – a major advantage.

“We already knew that the brain and liver regulate blood glucose levels, but how do you target either of these two organs without side effects?” asks Prof. Lam, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Obesity & John Kitson McIvor Endowed Chair in Diabetes Research.

“We may have found a way around this problem by suggesting the small intestine can be the initial target instead,” adds Lam, who is also Associate Director of Research at U of T’s Banting and Best Diabetes Centre and Senior Scientist at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute.

The gut is accustomed to dealing with new substances, and adapts to treatment better than the brain or liver, leading to fewer side effects, says Lam.

It’s significant that Lam found the same results with both Metformin and resveratrol. The substances are different from each other, but both triggered molecules in the gut that helped lower blood glucose. This adds to the evidence for developing new treatments focussed specifically on the gut.

Lam emphasized that it will take a number of years of experimental work to determine whether the current findings, which were discovered in rodents, are relevant in humans.​

Two related studies were published back-to-back online in Nature Medicine on April 6, 2015.

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For more information, please contact:

Liam Mitchell
Associate Director, Communications
Temerty Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto