Some of the most serious health complications associated with diabetes could be prevented or delayed by taking a widely available cholesterol-lowering drug which has already been on the market for three decades, new research has shown.
Results previously published from a five year study involving nearly 10,000 people with type 2 diabetes, have shown that people taking the drug fenofibrate gained protection against kidney damage and diabetic eye disease - both common complications of diabetes.
The latest findings from the same study, released at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Rome today (Tuesday 9 September), showed that fenofibrate also reduces the risk of amputation by 38 per cent.
Amputation is a grave concern for people with diabetes. The combination of nerve damage and poor circulation associated with diabetes means diabetics are more than 25 times more likely to suffer from amputation than others in the population. Aside from accidents, diabetes is responsible for up to 70 per cent of limb amputations.
The FIELD study, as it is called, was conducted by the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre at the University of Sydney. The study's lead investigator was University of Sydney and Royal Prince Alfred cardiologist Professor Tony Keech.
"The effects of fenofibrate in reducing the risk of amputations in patients with established microvascular complications were particularly striking," Professor Keech said. "What has become clear with this data on amputations, and previously with the strong results in diabetic eye disease and kidney damage, is that fenofibrate is providing benefits that are not available with other lipid-lowering drugs."
Results released last year showed that fenofibrate was helpful in delaying or preventing diabetic eye disease. Close to one third of people with diabetes suffer from diabetic retinopathy, which occurs when small blood vessels in the retina are damaged by high glucose levels and raised blood pressure. The only treatment is laser surgery but that is not completely effective and can cause damage to the retina. It is a major cause of blindness in the community.
Over the five years of the study, people who had diabetic retinopathy and took fenofibrate reduced their need to have their first laser treatment by 31%. In patients who didn't know they had the disease at the start of the trial, taking fenofibrate reduced the need for laser treatment by 49 per cent.
"These latest results are quite dramatic - it shows us that a once-a-day pill used for more than 30 years to modify blood lipids also greatly reduces the risk for people with diabetes of amputation. That benefit is on top of earlier findings that fenofibrate also significantly reduces the need for laser therapy for diabetic eye disease and protects against kidney damage," Professor Keech said.