Approximately 30 million Americans suffer from Type 2 diabetes – a disease that has skyrocketed over the past few decades. Now, a recent study conducted in mice may have found a solution to this epidemic.

When mice with the human equivalent of Type 2 diabetes were injected with the protein FGF1, their blood sugar levels returned to normal over two days. Just one injection of the protein both regulated these levels and even helped reverse insulin insensitivity – the underlying cause of diabetes.

Published in the journal Nature, the research on FGF1 could revolutionize diabetes treatment.

"Controlling glucose is a dominant problem in our society," said Ronald M. Evans, director of Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory and corresponding author of the paper. "And FGF1 offers a new method to control glucose in a powerful and unexpected way."

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by the body’s resistance to insulin, which causes blood glucose levels to rise higher than normal. For those suffering from the condition, management can be difficult due to a lack of safe and effective options. There is currently no cure for diabetes, and patients often suffer from related health problems.

While there are some drugs on the market that increase insulin by altering gene expression, the drugs can cause blood glucose levels to fall too low, resulting in side effects like hypoglycemia.

Hoping to find better options for diabetes patients, Evans and his team decided to study FGF1 after they discovered that the protein can help the body respond to insulin. They became interested in therapeutic uses of the protein when they noticed that mice lacking the FGF1 gene became diabetic when placed on a high-fat diet.

To assess the role of FGF1 in managing blood sugar levels, Evans’ team injected varying doses of the protein into the mice with diabetes. The results surprised the research team: A single dose restored blood sugar levels to normal in all of the diabetic mice.

"Many previous studies that injected FGF1 showed no effect on healthy mice," said Michael Downes, a senior staff scientist and co-corresponding author of the study. "However, when we injected it into a diabetic mouse, we saw a dramatic improvement in glucose."

In addition to being effective against diabetes, the protein has several advantages over current diabetes drugs. It does not result in dangerous side effects seen with other diabetes drugs, such as heart problems, weight gain, or hypoglycemia. Additionally, FGF1 not only increased insulin levels but also helped the mice regain their own ability to regulate insulin.

While the mechanism of FGF1 is not fully understood, the protein has showed great therapeutic promise.

“We want to move this to people by developing a new generation of FGF1 variants that solely affect glucose and not cell growth.” Evans said. “If we can find the perfect variation, I think we will have on our hands a very new, very effective tool for glucose control."