Controlling Diabetes…with Caffeine?

Controlling Diabetes…with Caffeine?

How a cup of coffee could one day help fight diabetes

Scientists are working on an intriguing new treatment for type 2 diabetes – a cup of coffee. However, the new “treatment” also involves genetic engineering of the patient’s own cells, joining a growing list of gene therapies in various stages of development.

Researchers have already started on the earliest versions of the treatment by developing some “proof of concept” studies with promising results. They successfully engineered human kidney cells that boost insulin production in response to caffeine.

The lab-created cells produce a molecule called GLP1 when they encounter caffeine. GLP1 prompts the pancreas to release insulin, which lowers blood sugar.

When scientists put an implant with hundreds of the engineered cells into diabetic mice, they were able to control blood-sugar level using coffee (Nespresso Volluto, if you’re curious), cola or even Red Bull. The mice were also given herbal tea and chocolate milkshakes, but those beverages didn’t summon any response from the modified cells, showing that the caffeine itself activates insulin production.

Setting aside the fact that sugar-rich colas and energy drinks are probably not an ideal part of a diabetic diet, the research does hint at a future therapy. Individuals with diabetes — who monitor their blood sugar constantly, often having to take shots to balance out levels — might one day simply brew a strong cup of java or go buy a diet soda from the vending machine.

This research is a long way from becoming a part of clinical care, but it highlights the potential  of how genetics can provide simpler, more permanent treatments for chronic diseases. In the future, that treatment might even be as easy as drinking that morning cup of coffee.

  • Reference: Bojar D, et al. Caffeine-inducible gene switches controlling experimental diabetes. Nature Communications 9, 2318 (2018).

To schedule a media interview with Dr. Neil Lamb or to invite him to speak at an event or conference, please contact Margetta Thomas by email at or by phone: Office (256) 327-0425 | Cell (256) 937-8210