MAR 13, 2020 6:00 AM PDT

Malaria drug treats lupus and prevents diabetes

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

A drug commonly used to treat certain types of malaria has been found to have some surprising synergistic effects: having an anti-inflammatory effect on lupus patients while also helping to prevent Type 2 diabetes in the long term.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that patients who were regularly taking hydroxychloroquine as a medication to manage lupus, an autoimmune disease, had a 39 percent lower risk of developing diabetes.

To build up this resistance, however, patients had to be committed to taking their medications routinely, faithfully refilling their prescriptions and rarely skipping their daily doses.

The 4 year-long study followed almost 1500 lupus patients across British Columbia, tracking their disease management, prescription, and hospitalization.

Senior author, Mary de Vera, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at UBC said, “Prior to this study, we already found that from 43 percent to 75 percent of lupus patients do not take their medications as prescribed. What we didn’t know was what the impact of that was on diabetes, which is a serious complication. Now, for the first time, we have a good idea.”

Hydroxychloroquine, sold under the trade name Plaquenil®,  is among the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines and was first used to treat lupus in 1834. People with lupus commonly experience fatigue, pain or swelling in joints, skin rashes, and fevers. Taking the antimalarial drug consistently, however, was found to decrease the number of flare-ups and reduce the severity of the disease over time.

Physicians and researchers are now learning more about the other long-term benefits of taking the drug. According to de Vera, “For people with lupus, preventing type 2 diabetes is critical. Diabetes can lead to many other complications such as neuropathy, cardiovascular disease, and kidney failure. Given the clear implications of non-adherence to lupus treatment, future research should focus on developing and testing ways to improve antimalarial adherence.”

 

 


Sources: Arthritis Care & Research, University of British Columbia.

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
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