Drug combination stimulates new insulin producing cells in type 1 diabetics

by Barbara Hewitt on June 25, 2014

A combination of two different medications could help type 1 diabetics at least partially regain the ability to produce their own insulin, according to new research.

Scientists have shown that within just a few months of the onset of type 1 diabetes there are very few insulin producing beta cells left in the pancreas, but a study at the University of Florida shows that combining two drugs appears to stimulate new cells.

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The drug combination could help type 1 diabetics produce new insulin

Dr. Michael Haller, a paediatric endocrinologist, said that first Thymoglobulin, a drug initially developed for use in organ transplantation, is used to find (and wipe out) problematic cells of the immune system that could be behind a patient’s inability to produce insulin.

Then Neulasta, a drug designed to improve the lives of people with certain cancers, is used to stimulate the production of new and potentially beneficial immune cells.

‘The treatment is almost like trying to hit the reset button on the immune system. We’re trying to wipe out the bad cells and stimulate the good cells at the same time,’ he explained.

Haller treated 17 adults with type 1 diabetes for two weeks with the cocktail drug therapy and then followed them for a year. Another eight patients were given a placebo. By the end of the year, the patients treated with the cocktail had increased their ability to produce insulin.

According to Haller, this indicates that the Thymoglobulin was successful in killing the bad immune system cells, and the Neulasta was successful in stimulating new, healthy immune cells. The researchers also say the patients’ ability to produce insulin indicates they had an increase in beta cells, the cells responsible for producing insulin in the pancreas.

Mark Atkinson, a co-investigator in this study and member of the department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine, added that the treatment seemed to stimulate insulin production in people with established type 1 diabetes, which made the researchers cautiously optimistic about the potential benefits.

Typically, studies examine patients who are newly diagnosed and still have a reasonable number of beta cells producing insulin. The patients in Haller’s study had been living with type 1 diabetes between four months and two years.

‘Despite tremendous strides in our understanding of the natural history of type 1 diabetes, we are as yet unable to cure and prevent the disease. This study is a step in that direction, toward a biological cure,’ said Dr. Desmond Schatz, associate chairman of the department of paediatrics at the university.

The patients in Haller’s study will be followed for three to five years to see if their bodies will preserve the insulin producing beta cells. The researchers’ next step will be to recruit patients who have been newly diagnosed with the disease to conduct a larger trial.

Haller also said that he hopes the approach will help patients manage their disease more easily. ‘If we can confirm the results in a larger effort, the study could potentially be paradigm-shifting. Our ultimate goal is to prevent and cure this disease, but we have to crawl before we walk, and walk before we run. This study is an important step forward in our efforts to make life easier for patients with type 1 diabetes,’ he pointed out.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ivan May 25, 2017 at 5:01 am

Three to five years for pre-study then more studies to follow.

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