Altered tyrosine kinase signalling has been implicated in several diseases, paving the way for the development of small-molecule TKIs (tyrosine kinase inhibitors). TKIs such as imatinib, sunitinib and dasatinib are clinically used for treating chronic myeloid leukaemia, gastrointestinal stromal tumours and other malignancies. In addition to their use as anti-cancer agents, increasing evidence points towards an anti-diabetic effect of these TKIs. Imatinib and other TKIs counteract diabetes not only in non-obese diabetic mice, but also in streptozotocin diabetic mice, db/db mice, high-fat-treated rats and humans with T2D (Type 2 diabetes). Although the mechanisms of protection need to be investigated further, the effects of imatinib and other TKIs in human T2D and the rapidly growing findings from animal models of T1D (Type 1 diabetes) and T2D are encouraging and give hope to improved treatment of human diabetes. In the present article, we review the anti-diabetic effects of TKIs which appear to involve both protection against β-cell death and improved insulin sensitivity. Considering the relatively mild side effects of TKIs, we hypothesize that TKIs could be used to treat new-onset T1D, prevent T1D in individuals at high risk of developing the disease, treat the late stages of T2D and improve the outcome of islet transplantation.

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