A drug used to treat diabetes also seems to prevent it in people at high risk of developing the disease, the largest study ever to test this has found.
The results of the study may change the way doctors look at diabetes and its prevention.
An experimental pill, rosiglitazone (Avandia) may prevent type 2 diabetes mellitus in high-risk individuals, according to an online publication from the Lancet. High-risk patients are those that have pre-diabetes, or conditions that might predict future diabetes.
It is estimated that 41 million Americans have pre-diabetes.
Researchers from around the world divided 5,269 adults with pre-diabetes into two groups. One group was given Avandia while the other group received a placebo.
Two hundred patients who took Avandia developed diabetes while 658 of the placebo patients developed the disease.
This data suggests that Avandia may reduce type 2 diabetes by two-thirds if taken upon diagnosis of diabetes risk factors.
These results are slightly better than those achieved by strict lifestyle changes, as reported in an earlier study. This study, known as the Diabetes Prevention Program, found that diabetes could be reduced by 58 percent by losing 7 percent of your body weight and exercising 2½ hours a week.
Most of the side effects from the drug were not serious, but some patients did develop heart failure during the study.
Researchers have never seen results as promising as those they have seen with this trial.
Avandia is a drug that has been used for several years to treat people with type 2 diabetes, but this research suggests that giving it to patients at high risk for developing diabetes may prevent them from ever progressing to the disease.
Experts are optimistic that this data solidifies an ongoing belief among doctors who treat diabetes that Avandia and similar medication may play a significant role in its prevention.
"This is a large study that showed strong effect with clear data," said Dr. Steve Haffner, professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center, who was not involved in the study. "This could lead to the FDA giving Avandia and [indicating it] for the prevention of diabetes."
Haffner stopped short of calling this a breakthrough, but he did state that it is a very significant study.
Dr. Alvin Powers at Vanderbilt University also hesitated to call this a breakthrough. "This is very important data. More research is needed to determine how this drug should be applied in diabetes prevention."
Lifestyle changes are still very important in the prevention of diabetes, but Avandia and similar medicines may eventually serve as an important adjunct.