Mimicry as good science

May 01, 2003, vol. 27, no. 1
By Diane Luckow

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Mario Pinto has founded a whole program of research based on mimicking molecules found in nature in order to design better drugs.

Mimicry may be the sincerest form of flattery but it can also be good science.

SFU chemist Mario Pinto has founded a whole program of research based on mimicking molecules found in nature in order to design better drugs. In the process, he has discovered a potentially powerful new compound to better control adult onset type II diabetes.

By coincidence, his new drug mimics a molecule found in a herbal remedy used to treat diabetes in his native Sri Lankan homeland.

The herbal remedy works to some extent, says Pinto, because of a molecule that can block the enzymes in the intestine that are responsible for breaking down carbohydrates and releasing glucose into the bloodstream after a meal. It is this glucose rush that is so dangerous for diabetics.

The natural remedy, however, is not active enough nor selective enough to adequately treat diabetes. So Pinto used molecular mimicry to design a compound that is more active and selective. In rats, he has found it blocks only the enzyme in the lower intestine, providing more control over blood glucose levels after a meal and, so far, no side effects. His next test is to try it on diabetic rats before moving the drug to human clinical trials, perhaps as soon as a year from now.

“We have shown that we have tremendous glucose controlling abilities,” says Pinto, who has named his new molecule Blintol after himself and his research partner, Blair Johnston.

While there is currently a drug on the market which does regulate glucose release, it works on a different enzyme. It is not much favoured in Canada because it produces unpleasant side effects. Pinto is hoping his patented drug will, within the next few years, come onto the market and offer a treatment that is virtually free of side effects.

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