medication

Blood pressure drug could prevent 60% of type 1 diabetes cases

by Barbara Hewitt on February 20, 2018

A drug often used to control high blood pressure may also help prevent type 1 diabetes in up to 60% of those at risk of developing the condition, new research has found.

The drug, methyldopa, has been used for over 50 years to treat high blood pressure in pregnant women and children. But like many drugs used for one condition, researchers have discovered it is useful for something totally unrelated.

Blood Pressure

(By kurhan/Shutterstock.com)

Around 60% of people at risk of developing type 1 diabetes possess the DQ8 molecule which significantly increases the chance of getting the disease. The researchers believed that if they could block this molecule they could also block the onset of the disease.

Dr Aaron Michels of the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical School in the United States, said that the team of scientists searched a thousand orientations of many drugs to identify those that would fit within the DQ8 molecule binding groove.

‘All drugs have off-target effects. If you take too much acetaminophen you can hurt your liver. We took every FDA approved small molecule drug and analysed HLA-DQ8 binding through a supercomputer,’ he pointed out.

After running thousands of drugs through the supercomputer, they found that methyldopa not only blocked DQ8, but it didn’t harm the immune function of other cells like many immunosuppressant drugs do.

The research has so far spanned 10 years and its efficacy was shown in mice and in 20 type 1 diabetes patients who took part in a clinical trial at the Barbara Davis Centre at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

‘This is the first personalised treatment for type 1 diabetes prevention. We can now predict with almost 100% accuracy who is likely to get type 1 diabetes. The goal with this drug is to delay or prevent the onset of the disease among those at risk,’ Michels explained.

Scientists hope that this same approach of blocking specific molecules can be used in other diseases. ‘This study has significant implications for treatment of diabetes and also other autoimmune diseases,’ said David Ostrov, associate professor of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine in the University of Florida College of Medicine.

The next step will be a larger clinical trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health in the spring. ‘With this drug, we can potentially prevent up to 60% of type 1 diabetes in those at risk for the disease. This very significant development,’ Michels added.

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