A medication used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA) might also be useful in lowering blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes, according to a recent report from researchers in China. The drug is leflunomide, which has been used to treat RA for nearly two decades. According to Xiulong Xo, PhD, of Yangzhou University, it “could potentially be useful for treating patients with both RA and diabetes.”
Dr. Xo said that his team of researchers studied how leflunomide “works at a molecular level” and discovered that it targets a protein that’s involved in desensitizing the insulin receptor. Because the insulin receptor instructs the cells to start absorbing sugar from the bloodstream, the researchers speculated that leflunomide could play a role in blood glucose management. To test their theory, they administered leflunomide to obese mice who were fed a high-fat diet. They found that the leflunomide normalized blood sugar levels and overcame insulin resistance in the high-fat-diet mice (it didn’t have this effect on mice fed a normal diet).
Although the research was intriguing, it’s too early to advise leflunomide for diabetes patients in general. The researchers, however, hope to get closer to making that recommendation by next conducting trials of leflunomide in humans.