Liraglutide (brand name Victoza) is a GLP-1 receptor agent drug used to help control blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes in conjunction with a proper diet and exercise. But, it may also be able to preserve pancreatic beta cell function.

Pancreatic beta cells

The primary function of a beta cell is to store and release insulin. If you have a spike in blood glucose concentration, beta cells will respond quickly by secreting some of their stored insulin while simultaneously producing more. For people with diabetes, these cells are either destroyed by the immune system in type 1 diabetics, or unable to produce sufficient insulin in type 2 diabetics.

Liraglutide’s role in beta cell function

Recent studies suggest that liraglutide may be able to help type 2 diabetics preserve the function of their pancreatic beta cells. A trial of 51 patients who had type 2 diabetes for around 2 years and an A1c of about 6% underwent 4 weeks of intensive insulin therapy followed by a daily injection of either liraglutide or a placebo. The study participants continued their trial for 48 weeks before stopping their medication and completing an oral glucose tolerance test (OGGT). An Insulin Secretion-Sensitivity Index-2 was used to measure beta cell function, and found that the liraglutide group had both a higher beta cell function and lower HbA1c. 2 weeks after stopping the study, the same differences between the two groups were no longer found.

Further trials will have to be completed to measure the long-term effects of liraglutide on beta cell function, but this study is promising in determining if liraglutide may improve pancreatic beta cell function for type 2 diabetics.

For more on diabetes medications:

Get to Know Your Diabetes Meds
Beyond Insulin: Other Injectable Medicines to Treat Diabetes
Know Your Risks: Side Effects of Injectable Diabetes Medications