‘Nothing ever follows through’: Antimalarial drug disappoints in treatment of diabetes

Recent research following a finding from earlier this year that antimalarial drug artemether could aid treatment of type 1 diabetes has resulted in disappointment, Mark Huising, PhD, and colleagues reported in a study published this month in Cell Metabolism.

Earlier this year, a team of European researchers suggested artemether could convert malleable alpha cells in pancreatic islets into functional beta cells, which are crucial to insulin production, the University of California, Davis reported in a release. A lack of functional beta cells is characteristic of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes—despite the diseases’ vast differences—and early reports stated artemether could convert islet cells from alpha to beta, prompting a novel treatment technique for diabetics.

Huising and his team attempted to replicate the original, earlier experiment using pancreatic islets derived from mice, but weren’t as lucky. The researchers concluded after four months of no progress that artemether wasn’t triggering cell conversion.

“We were hoping, expecting to confirm,” Huising, whose research at UC Davis centers around pancreatic islet function, said in the release. “We weren’t able to.”

The lack of favorable outcomes could stem from shortcomings in the initial research project, the authors wrote in their paper. For instance, the study that suggested artemether could trigger cell conversion was limited and relied “heavily” on experiments conducted on immortalized islet cell lines.

In their work, Huising and co-authors underline the importance of reproducibility in science and biomedical research, especially when it comes to discoveries that could change the field of diabetes research.

“First we had hoped that we would be able to replicate the findings, but they didn’t hold up,” he said. “People with type 1 diabetes, they see these stories come out and they think maybe there’s something on the horizon—and then nothing ever follows through.”