UNLOCKING CURES FOR DIABETES (SECOND OF THE PARTS)
Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Photo: Getty Image
(Second of Two Parts)
“It requires discipline. Moreover, it is costly. Medicines alone can already put a dent on the budget. And if not properly managed, it can have complications, such as chronic blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage, amputation, and birth defects among others.”
So wrote Dr. Irene M. Villaseñor and Juane Marco B. Gonzales on the horror of diabetes, the eighth leading cause of death among Filipinos. The two bared the statement in a paper published by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
“With the continued rise of diabetes incidence, there is an urgent need to develop more alternative yet effective antidiabetic drugs for Filipinos, especially those who do not make ends meet,” the two wrote.
When it comes to alternative medicine against diabetes, ampalaya comes to mind. Dr. William Torres, former director of Bureau of Food and Drugs, came up with this conclusion after reviewing several studies done on the fruit vegetable: “Ampalaya fruits, leaves, seeds and other parts, when used as dry powders, extracts, decoctions, fresh or cooled, have clearly demonstrated hypoglycemic activity.”
Researchers have identified the key compounds present in ampalaya, notably polypeptide-P, plant insulin found only in the ampalaya. Similar to animal insulin, polypeptide-P lowers elevated blood sugar levels. Dr. Torres maintains that ampalaya when taken regularly, helps to increase glucose tolerance and “potentiate insulin.”
Even ampalaya leaves have some blood sugar lowering effect among people with diabetes, according to Dr. Eduardo G. Gonzales of the College of Medicine at De La Salle University. “This effect is noticeable regardless of how the leaves are prepared — boiled then eaten, or in the form of extract, tea, capsule or tablet.”
These days, Filipino researchers are also looking at malunggay. Recent studies have found malunggay extracts can significantly reduce blood sugar in mice. Because of this finding, Villaseñor and Gonzales were doing studies on the “super plant.”
“Our goal is to isolate an antidiabetic compound from malunggay and to formulate a less expensive, alternative drug against diabetes for the consumption of diabetic Filipinos,” the two researchers from the University of the Philippines in Diliman said.
The researchers and their team were able to do so. “With the help and support from the government and the hard-earned money of the taxpayers, our group managed to isolate an antidiabetic compound from malunggay leaves,” the two wrote in their paper.
The researchers dried four kilos of malunggay leaves, and after several experiments, they were able to produce a minuscule amount of pure anti-diabetic compound from the leafy vegetable.
“The miniscule powder was all we needed to test the potential antidiabetic property of malunggay,” the two authors reported in their paper. “We isolated the compounds present in malunggay by their polarity, or their likelihood to dissolve in water (polar) or in oil (nonpolar). The compounds in each group were tested for antidiabetic effects by mixing with an enzyme that increases blood sugar.”
The discovered compound, however, is still to be subjected to further tests before it is released in the market for Filipino diabetics in need of less expensive, alternative maintenance drugs.
“We still have a long way to go to develop such a drug, but the important thing is, not only have we begun the journey; we have gone a long way,” the two researchers said.
Dr. Portia Mahal G. Sabido, also from UP Diliman, is conducting a study on peptide-based substances which can block the breakdown of large sugar matter in the body and lower blood sugar levels. These substances will be produced and developed as antidiabetic drugs.
As Type 2 diabetes is the most common form among Filipinos, she is searching for an antidiabetic drug that targets blood sugar control. “These drugs typically decrease the sugar concentration in the blood by slowing the rate of sugar production and breakdown in the body, or by increasing insulin sensitivity,” she explains.
Currently, there are four main classes of antidiabetic drugs available for blood sugar control: sensitizers, secretagogues, incretin analogs, and alpha-glucodasidase inhibitors. Dr. Sabido’s research will develop antidiabetic drugs of the alpha-glucosidse inhibitors class.
According to Dr. Sabido, “alpha-glucosidase inhibitors lower blood sugar levels by blocking the action of the alpha-glucosidase enzymes found in the small intestine. Alpha-glucosidase is an enzyme that breaks down starch and other large sugars into simple forms that could be absorbed from the intestine into the bloodstream.
“Blocking alpha-glucosidase decreases the rate of sugar breakdown and absorption of sugar from starch. This leads to a decrease in the sugar spike in the blood shortly after food intake. If this matches the slowing of insulin production by the pancreas, then the overall control of blood sugar can be improved.”
A number of researchers have focused on the quest for more effective inhibitors of antidiabetic compounds from natural materials. Among such compounds are peptides obtained from animals and plants.
“Peptides are naturally occurring substances that can be described as short chains of amino acids,” Dr. Sabido writes. “They are smaller versions of proteins, since proteins are also biological substances considering long chains of amino acids.”
In her project, “we will merge the natural with the artificial (peptides) in order to create a more potent antidiabetic drug,” she said. “We will produce chemically the natural peptides that have been reported to exhibit alpha-glucodasidase inhibition, attach them with the small molecules which are also reported to have alpha-glucodasidase activity, and determine to combination which has the most potential as a drug that can be used for the treatment of diabetes.”
Meanwhile, the Visayas State University is trying to find a cure for diabetes right in the backyard. Dr. Edgard E. Tulin, who’s doing extensive research, believes that those growing weeds and herbs are just waiting to be discovered and developed into potent antidiabetic drugs.
So far, 54 new medicinal indigenous plants have been collected and being extracted for the screening of plant insulin-mimetic properties.
“The discovery of plant-derived insulin mimetics may provide a breakthrough in the field of medicine,” Dr. Tulin pointed out. “It would benefit not only people afflicted with diabetes but also individuals who are at risk of developing the disease. It is with optimism that once completed, the project will help curb the incidence of diabetes.”