Common aspirin reveals mechanism of insulin resistance

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Findings suggest treatment target for type 2 diabetes

In 1876, a German professor described a treatment that led to rapid improvement in two men who were suffering from what doctors now recognize as classic type 2 diabetes. In the late 1950s, scattered reports about this treatment for diabetes symptoms again appeared in the medical literature; the results were equally dramatic. What was this mysterious medicine? Aspirin. Doctors have long known that aspirin can lower blood sugar and the amount of insulin in the blood streams of diabetic patients. But the high dosages of aspirin required to treat diabetes symptoms — and the harmful, even potentially fatal, side-effects of those high dosages — made it impractical as a therapy. Now Harvard researchers working at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston have figured out how high dosages of aspirin reverse the effect of a particular protein that can cause insulin resistance. Steven Shoelson, Harvard Medical School associate professor of medicine at Joslin, was senior author of the scientific report appearing in the Aug. 31, 2001, issue of Science. Shoelson envisions the development of a new selective drug that can target the key protein without aspirin’s potentially fatal side-effects.