Injection “reverses” symptoms of type II diabetes

There is currently no cure for type 2 diabetes, a disease where the body begins to resist the effects of insulin, causing glucose levels in the bloodstream to become dangerously high. Drugs called thiazolidinediones can cause the body to respond normally to insulin, but there are numerous side effects associated with them. This particular study, led by Michael Downes and Ronald Evans, sought to investigate the effects of a protein called fibroglast growth factor 1 (FGF1). When FGF1 was injected into the bloodstream of mice with diabetes, it was shown to have a significant glucose lowering effect. And even at higher doses, the mice didn’t experience the accompanying side effects. The scientists also showed that FGF1 works in conjunction with insulin (it had no effect in mice who didn’t produce insulin at all). However, they have yet to figure out the exact mechanism for how FGF1 works.

The title of the article itself is “Endocrinization of FGF1 produces a neomorphic and potent insulin sensitizer.” This basically means: when the protein FGF1 is injected into the bloodstream, it helps the mouse become more sensitive to insulin (and therefore break down more glucose, reversing the pattern of diabetes). “Neomorphic” means that FGF1 actually causes a change in the genetic makeup of the mouse.

A single dose of recombinant FGF1 lowers glucose levels in mice through insulin. Chronic treatment with recombinant FGF1 helps the body achieve glucose uptake into skeletal muscle and suppresses the liver’s production of glucose (two things that diabetic patients struggle with). The side effects of weight gain, liver steatosis (excess fat), bone loss, and hypoglycemia (with larger doses) were not witnessed in the mice. Also, FGF1 is not dependent on mitogenic (cell division) activity; rather, the glucose-lowering activity is mediated by FGF receptor 1.


The popular piece actually reflects the scientific study quite well. The writers of the popular piece carefully reference specific findings in the study. The specificity of the popular piece was what made it feel more accurate—there was little room to “stretch” the facts. For instance, the popular piece describes how mice reacted both to single doses and chronic treatment. The scientific study contains the same information. The popular piece mentions certain side effects usually associated with diabetes treatment that were not witnessed in the experiment: weight gain, bone loss, etc. The scientific study contains the same information. Also, the popular piece accurately conveys the scope/significance of the study, mentioning that 1) the findings are still preliminary, 2) they don’t know how exactly FGF1 works, and 3) this only applies to type II diabetes. Still, the popular piece does agree with the study that, “FGF1 [has] therapeutic potential for the treatment of insulin resistance”.

The popular piece and the scientific study have several differences in their style and overall presentation. The main difference is that the popular piece is more general and summative, while the study is more specific. The popular piece is relatively vague about how FGF1 functions, but the study clearly states that FGF1 is an “autocrine/panacrine regulator whose binding to heparin sulphate proteoglycans effectively precludes its circulation.” Clearly, one needs to use Google to totally understand what the study is talking about. The popular piece, on the other hand, uses vernacular language. In addition, the popular piece includes background information (e.g what is type II diabetes, what are the existing treatments) while the study assumes prior knowledge on the subject.

The chief way the popular piece exaggerated the study is through its catchy title. The title is clearly designed to catch people’s attention and bait them to click on the link. The title “one injection reverses diabetes symptoms without side effects” and “scientists have developed an injection that can ‘reverse’ diabetes” are purposely misleading. First of all, the findings are only preliminary, and much more research has to be done before FGF1 can be used to treat diabetes in the general population. Secondly, FGF1 treatment only works for mice and has yet to be verified for humans. Thirdly, one injection only reverses the symptoms, it does not eradicate the disease itself. Fourthly, the injection does nothing to ameliorate the symptoms for type I diabetes, only type II.

To improve the popular media piece, I would give it a new, less extreme title. I would also explain how FGF1 is neomorphic (and what neomorphic means).

One response to “Injection “reverses” symptoms of type II diabetes”

  1. Hannah Bukzin says:

    The title is definitely exaggerated. I think that is just a marketing thing so that people will click on the page and read the article. A new, less over-the-top, title is definitely needed!

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