Diabetes Drug Shows Potential to Reduce Liver Transplants

Approximately 58% of patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis treated with pioglitazone showed reduced disease activity.

In a recent study, scientists found the diabetes drug pioglitazone (Actos) could potentially stop the progression of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a liver disease that causes inflammation.

Approximately one-third of patients with adult-onset diabetes also have NASH, which can lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis that requires liver transplantation. Researchers in the study included 101 patients with NASH who had prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

The study showed pioglitazone reduced fatty liver disease activity in 58% of patients, while 51% of patients had a reduction so significant that is was no longer considered a threat to the liver, according to the study published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Federal regulators approved pioglitazone in 2000 for blood glucose control in adults with type 2 diabetes.

Patients with NASH are insulin-resistant, and the condition promotes fat accumulation in the liver. The researchers believe this medication makes the body more responsive to insulin, thus reducing disease progression.

However, researchers are not fully certain how pioglitazone acts against NASH. The drug’s use for the treatment of NASH still needs to be studied in larger clinical trials, the study noted.

"The exciting thing is that there is a generic drug that already prevents the onset of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in recent studies. Now, it can reduce disease from excess liver fat accumulation and liver inflammation, and halt fibrosis that leads to cirrhosis,” concluded lead researcher Kenneth Cusi, MD. “This will have a lot of long-term benefits for many people with a medication that will be very affordable and is already being used to treat type 2 diabetes.”