German researchers propose that a synthetic derivative of thiamine, or vitamin B1, may be useful in preventing blindness, limb loss, kidney failure and other complications of diabetes that are caused by high blood-glucose levels.
The drug, benfotiamine, used in Germany to treat sciatica and other nerve problems, has been shown to reverse the effects of diabetic retinopathy in rats.
Benfotiamine increases the ability of B1 to affect three separate pathways of cell damage that can occur when there is a build-up of glucose. “The ability of benfotiamine to inhibit three major pathways simultaneously might be clinically useful in preventing the development and progression of diabetic complications,” the researchers assert.
Dr. Francine Kaufman, president of the American Diabetes Association, has described the findings as “exciting,” adding that no other products currently in the pipeline deal with all three pathways.
Judith Fradkin of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease calls the work “promising,” although she cautions that more study is needed.
—Nature Medicine, February 18, 2003