With a series of new grants, Saint Louis University researchers will tackle the twin epidemics of diabetes and obesity by tapping into the potential of two nuclear receptors that control muscle metabolism. The scientists will optimize two promising drug compounds, moving a step closer toward capturing the benefits of exercise in pill form.
Thomas Burris, Ph.D., chair of pharmacology and physiology at Saint Louis University, and John Walker, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology and physiology at Saint Louis University, have received $2.4 million from the U.S. Department of Defense and $1.74 million from the National Institutes of Health in a series of grants that will fund the study of two receptors that are linked to muscle metabolism: REV-ERB and ERR.
In past studies, a drug developed by Burris that targets REV-ERB appears to act as an exercise mimic. Genetic studies with ERR suggest that it may be a good target for development of exercise mimetic drugs as well.
Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and more than 80 percent of patients with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. Aiming to offer new options for patients suffering from the burdens of these health threats, Burris and Walker’s work combines chemistry and biology to develop new treatments.
“We can design drugs rather than just study them,” Burris said. “That’s the fun part. We can take the work further toward developing new therapies.”
Exercise provides health benefits that include improving insulin sensitivity and weight control. But not everyone is able to exercise.
“If you exercise, it’s effectively a treatment for diabetes and obesity as you increase the metabolic rate of muscle,” Burris said. “You develop a more efficient muscle. That’s what you get from exercise. You develop more endurance and that is good for your metabolic function.