The studies, done in mice, identify a previously unexpected link between a low-oxygen condition called hypoxia and the ability of cells in the liver to respond to insulin. The drug, aflibercept (marketed as Eylea or Zaltrap), is used to treat metastatic colorectal cancer and a form of macular degeneration. Aflibercept is a member of a family of proteins that inhibit the vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, pathway. It works by blocking the growth of the blood vessels into tumors and starving them of oxygen.
The lab of Calvin Kuo, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, identified a series of protein interactions that link VEGF inhibitors and blood glucose levels. “We were surprised to find that this drug currently used in patients for cancer treatment had beneficial effects on diabetes in laboratory mice and could, potentially, in humans,” said Kuo, senior author of one of the Nature Medicine papers.
Together, the studies explain an observation made several years ago by Kuo and his lab members that VEGF inhibitors, such as aflibercept, could lower blood glucose levels in mice. There have been intriguing hints that these inhibitors could function in a similar way in humans, but human studies have not been formally conducted.