Giving the animals the molecule lowered levels of insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE), which then raised insulin levels, the Harvard University researchers report.
Much more investigation is needed, but the compound may one day help people with diabetes control their disease more effectively, according to the authors of the study published in the journal Nature.
Read: How do you treat type 2 diabetes?
"This work validates a new potential target for the treatment of diabetes," study co-author David Liu, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard, said in a university news release. "What we show is that inhibiting IDE in an animal can improve glucose tolerance under conditions that mimic the intake of a meal if you administer this compound beforehand."
Insulin-based diabetes treatments include insulin injection, drugs that stimulate insulin production or drugs that make the body more sensitive to insulin.
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"What's been missing has been the ability to regulate the degradation [breakdown] of insulin," study co-author Alan Saghatelian, an associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard, said in the news release. "The technological leap we've made was in identifying a molecule that allows that to happen."
Promising research with animals often fails to provide similar results in humans.
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