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Different kind of insulin injection may treat chronic colitis

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Insulin, long known to treat diabetes, also shows promise as a treatment for chronic colitis, according to a new study with mice.

“Our new treatment with insulin on mice shows great potential against chronic bowel inflammation in humans like colitis ulcerosa, which causes a lot of people great discomfort,” says Jørgen Olsen, co-inventor of the treatment and a professor in the cellular and molecular medicine department at the University of Copenhagen.

“Existing treatments attack the bowel’s immune system, dampening it. Instead our method strengthens the bowel cells’ own defense. It appears to work equally well, and it can probably be used in combination with existing treatments,” Olsen says.

Researchers examined the effect of the treatment, which involves injecting insulin into the rectum, in a series of tests on mice with colitis ulcerosa. The cause of the bowel disorder is unknown, but it can cause patients great discomfort and can involve bloody diarrhea, anemia, stomach ache, and weight loss. Each year, 20,000 Danes suffer from the condition.

As reported in the Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis, researchers studied the effect of the insulin treatment in various ways and discovered that the amount of inflammation, expressed as the level of the marker Cox2, dropped by 50 percent compared to the saltwater control treatment.

Further, the researchers measured the body weight of the mice—people who suffer from colitis typically lose a lot of weight because they don’t eat much. Using the new treatment, mice lost 15-20 percent less weight than the control group, and following treatment, gained weight 50 percent faster—an important sign of health.

The insulin works because it activates a gene inside the bowel cells, which, according to other studies, has an antioxidant effect and thus may be able to protect the bowel cells from inflammation, researchers say.

This makes the new treatment different from existing medication, which instead of strengthening the bowel’s defense weakens the immune system’s attack on the bowel. And therefore the researchers hope to combine the new treatment with existing ones.

Based on the positive results the researchers have now set up a company that will test the treatment in clinical trials on humans and hopefully eventually make the technology available to patients.

The researchers have applied for a patent for the treatment method. Additional coauthors are from Roskilde University. The Lundbeck Foundation, among others, funded the work.

Source: University of Copenhagen