A new once-a-week diabetes treatment may soon provide relief for millions of people with Type 2 diabetes (the variety of the disease associated with obesity that can be prevented with proper diet and exercise). Researchers report online in The Lancet today that a long-acting version of the diabetes drug exenatide controlled blood sugar levels during clinical trials better than the current two-times-a-day dosage of the same medication.

Patients with Type 2 diabetes either do not produce enough insulin or have cells that do not respond to insulin normally. Exenatide (also known as Byetta) mimics incretins, hormones that are naturally secreted by the intestines and that, in turn, increase insulin levels after eating. The drug increases the body's natural insulin secretion in response to food and slows food's journey through the stomach.

Scientists, led by Daniel Drucker of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, gave 130 diabetes patients the new once-a-week formulation of exenatide and another group of 130 sufferers the traditional 14-times-a-week injection for 30 weeks. Patients on the weekly regimen had lower blood sugar levels and lost similar amounts of weight as the daily group. Another plus, people might be more likely to stick to the less frequent schedule.

About 180 million people worldwide have diabetes, the vast majority of which is Type 2. The National Institutes of Health estimates that more than one in 15 (23 million) Americans have some form of the disease. Type 2 diabetes (formerly called "adult onset" diabetes) used to be only found in adults, but is increasingly appearing in obese kids, too. Type 2 differs from Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that first emerges in childhood in which cells of the pancreas are destroyed and, so, cannot produce insulin; those with the disease must take or inject insulin daily to survive. The number of all cases of diabetes is expected to double by 2030, according to the World Health Organization.

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