A recent study by researchers at the University of California – Los Angeles and published in the journal Diabetes has found that the popular diabetes drug sitagliptin, sold as the brand Januvia. may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. The study lasting 12 weeks treated 40 rats which had been genetically engineered to simulate the metabolism of humans with Type 2 diabetes with either Januvia or a combination of Januvia and metformin (metformin is believed to have tumour-suppressing properties). Rats treated solely with Januvia had a significantly higher rate of proliferation of beta cells, the cells which produce insulin in the pancreas, with some of the rats developing inflammation of the pancreas and other pancreatic abnormalities.
“Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong disease — people often take the same drugs for many years, so any adverse effect that could over time increase the risk for pancreatic cancer would be a concern,” said lead researcher Peter Butler. “A concern here is that the unwanted effects of this drug on the pancreas would likely not be detected in humans unless the pancreas was removed and examined.”
Previous research has suggested that another diabetic drug called Byetta which works in the same way as Januvia might increase the risk of pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas which is a well known risk factor and precursor to cancer of the pancreas, one of the most deadly cancers there are.
Byetta and Januvia both act by enhancing the activity of a hormone in the gastro-intestinal tract called glucagon-like-peptide-1 (GLP-1), which results in lower blood sugar levels. This study suggests that enhanced GLP-1 activity might be a risk factor for pancreatitis.
Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor Activation Modulates Pancreatitis-Associated Gene Expression But Does Not Modify the Susceptibility to Experimental Pancreatitis in Mice