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University of Tennessee researchers are studying how a new diet drug approved recently by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can help control diabetes.

The drug, which will be marketed under the name Xenical, is being tested at UT Medical Center on 24 type II diabetes patients who use insulin.

Dr. Warren Thompson, who chairs the center’s department of medicine and co-directs the study, said weight loss is important for controlling diabetes. He expects UT tests to be completed in eight months and show Xenical to be a beneficial part of treatment for diabetics who take insulin.

“Xenical already has been found to help diabetics who use other medications to control the disease, and we are hopeful that it will do the same for patients on insulin,” Thompson said. “Losing weight helps control blood sugar, and the closer blood sugar is to normal in diabetics the less likely they are to develop health complications.”

Dr. Michael Zemel, who also co-directs the study and heads UT-Knoxville-s nutrition department, said the drug works by blocking 30 percent of dietary fat from being absorbed by the body and should benefit diabetics who take insulin.

“We know that when diabetics who take other medicines lose weight, the dose of medication required goes down, blood pressure goes down, and ability to control diabetes and blood sugar levels is improved,” Zemel said. “Most of the consequences of obesity are improved when you lose weight with this drug, and that can be helpful to diabetics.”

Type II diabetes occurs when the body fails to respond to insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that converts blood sugar into energy. It is the most common form of the disease and can damage the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, eyes, and nerves.

Some type II diabetics are treated with medication. More serious cases, such as those in the UT study, must take insulin. Thompson said the new drug could help those patients reduce or eliminate their need for supplemental insulin.

“If people lose weight their insulin requirements should decrease, so it is certainly reasonable to expect that they could take less insulin,” Thompson said. “I would expect at least some patients to even be able to come off insulin with the help of Xenical.”