TOKYO — When Gary Wittert began looking for tubby male baby boomers to take part in a clinical trial last month, he got 800 volunteers in one day. The draw: free testosterone injections.
Wittert, a professor of medicine at the University of Adelaide, and his colleagues suspect the sex hormone known to increase libido and musculature could also help prevent a form of diabetes that tends to strike later in life and afflicts more than 330 million people worldwide.
The steroid, which cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to using in winning seven Tour de France titles, could go from being popular among men “looking to spice up their sex lives” to becoming a mainstream therapy if the trial, the largest test of testosterone’s potential to fight diabetes, shows positive results, said Stuart Roberts, a health care analyst with Bell Potter Securities in Sydney.
“The Wittert study will be the real kicker here,” Roberts said in a telephone interview. “This is what gets you away from the ‘snigger factor’ with testosterone. And, because testosterone is cheap and easy to make, it won’t be an impost to the health care system.”
Although diabetes and obesity are linked to testosterone deficiency, scientists don’t know what effect testosterone has on diabetes risk for men whose waning sensitivity to insulin makes them prediabetic.
Trial participants will be monitored for blood sugar, muscle strength, body composition, and their motivation to stick with a lifestyle program, Wittert said.
“It’s going to be big undertaking, but we will get an answer,” said the University of Sydney’s David Handelsman, whose ANZAC Research Institute is one of six sites in Australia involved in the research. “No other study of that scale and ambition is underway anywhere in the world to my knowledge.”
Current recommendations to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes focus on reducing body fat and exercising, which fails to stop as much as 30 percent of those at risk of the obesity-linked condition developing it within five years. The International Diabetes Federation said the disease costs $471 billion to treat worldwide.