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Are you on statins? Beware, you may soon be diabetic, says research

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Photo: Siddharth Kankaria/Research Matters

Allopathic medicines are often associated with side effects and pose a health concern for patients who use them. An estimate by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today states that more than one million cases of drug side effects were reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2015– an alarming increase by fivefold since 2004. Drugs used to treat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and diabetes ranked among those with the greatest number of reports.

Statins are a class of oral drugs widely used for treatment of hypercholesterolemia, a condition where high levels of cholesterol are present in blood leading to heart diseases including strokes. Although statins are very effective in reducing the risk of death and disability caused by heart related diseases, they are now known to cause a major side effect - diabetes. Recent clinical data proves that statin therapy might be associated with 12-13% increased risk of new onset of diabetes. Recognizing this severity, the FDA has, since 2012, imposed a compulsory warning message on statin drug package about the potential risk of type 2 diabetes.

With millions of patients worldwide consuming statins chronically, it is critical to study the mechanism behind what increases the risk of diabetes onset. Although many research groups across the globe are trying to dissect the mechanism, most of them have focused on tissues less relevant to insulin resistance. Now, for the first time, a research group led by Dr. Uday Saxena and Prof. Parimal Misra at Dr. Reddy’s Institute of Life Sciences, University of Hyderabad campus and their collaborators at Kareus Therapeutics, Switzerland, have studied how statins causes insulin resistance in muscle cells.

“Understanding how statin leads to insulin resistance (diabetes) in muscle tissues is important as muscles consume a lot of glucose in the body”, says Prof. Parimal. The researchers used muscle cells from rats as a model for studying the effects of statin and to investigate whether statin blocked the action of the diabetes drug pioglitazone. Interestingly, they observed that statin does not prevent the action of the diabetic drug, but instead builds up fat in the body cells, which may ultimately lead to a diabetic condition. Accumulation of fat in muscle cells interferes with proper functioning of insulin as the fat blocks the insulin-signaling pathway, the regulator of glucose concentration in our body. The study also debunked the myth that cholesterol was directly involved in triggering insulin resistance, thus aiding the onset of diabetes.

What does this finding imply to patients who are on statins to regulate their cholesterol limits? “There is concern whether the diabetes causing effect of statins may limit their use. For patients with cardiovascular disease statins are life saving drugs. By understanding the mechanism of how they may cause diabetes, new strategies can be designed to prevent this effect. Also, next generation "super statins" could be designed that may not have this unwanted effect of statins”, signs off Dr.Uday Saxena, stressing the importance of this finding.

“Research like this on translational science is an important aspect of the Institute’s mission”, says Dr. A. Venkateswarlu, Director of the Institute.