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The findings support the repurposing of the rheumatoid arthritis medication auranofin for diabetic treatment.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and other institutions revealed that the rheumatoid arthritis medication auranofin might be repurposed to treat diabetes-related symptoms. The research, which was carried out in mice, was published today in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Despite the fact that scientists have shown proven links between inflammation in white adipose tissue and insulin resistance in people and rats, comprehensive anti-inflammatory therapies do not have long-term therapeutic effectiveness in diabetes. The present study investigated the link between inflammation and diabetes in further depth by searching for existing medications that may treat both illnesses.

“We computationally screened a small-molecule dataset and found auranofin, an FDA-approved medication used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory illness,” said first and co-corresponding author Dr. Aaron R. Cox, a Baylor professor of medicine-endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism. “Auranofin has anti-inflammatory qualities, which many people anticipated might be advantageous in obesity and diabetes; nevertheless, it was unclear how it may alter metabolism.”

The researchers looked at the metabolic effects of auranofin in a mouse model of diabetes where the animals ate a high-fat diet.

“We observed that auranofin has separate anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties,” said Dr. Sean Hartig, co-corresponding author and assistant professor of medicine-endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, and molecular and cellular biology at Baylor. Hartig is also affiliated with Baylor’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Auranofin enhanced insulin sensitivity, or the body’s capacity to react to insulin to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels.” In the mouse model, the medication also reversed obesity-related alterations such as hyperinsulinemia (higher-than-normal blood insulin levels). Furthermore, we discovered that auranofin accumulation in white adipose tissue lowered inflammatory responses in obese mice without changing body composition.”

Investigating the basis of these metabolic alterations, the researchers revealed that auranofin’s anti-diabetic benefits entailed a decrease in leptin levels. Leptin is a hormone whose levels rise dramatically in obese people, leading to insulin resistance and diabetes. Furthermore, auranofin restored white adipose tissue’s capacity to react to catecholamines, which are signals that stimulate metabolic activity in adipose tissue, resulting in faster lipid burning.

“These changes, when combined, contribute to an overall increase in the mice’s insulin sensitivity, leading to blood glucose management, which is the ultimate objective of diabetes therapy,” Cox said. “High blood glucose levels are harmful to various tissues in the body.” Diabetes, if left uncontrolled, may lead to organ failure.”