Should Cancer Drugs Be Used to Treat Diabetics?

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Two common cancer drugs have been shown to both prevent and reverse type 1 diabetes in a mouse model of the disease. The drugs are imatinib (marketed as Gleevec) and sunitinib (marketed as Sutent). Both were found to put type 1 diabetes into remission in 80 percent of the test mice and work permanently in 80 percent of those that go into remission.

The drugs’ benefit appears to derive from the ability to block receptors of an enzyme tyrosine kinase not known to be implicated in diabetes, an enzyme known as platelet-derived growth factor receptor, or PDGFR. This kinase regulates cell growth and division, and also plays a key role in inflammation in a variety of settings.

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