Halting Diabetes

Researchers from UCLA have discovered what they call a “remarkable” new tool in the fight against diabetes.

An 18-month clinical trial shows a new drug halts the progression of type 1 diabetes and improves a diabetic’s ability to produce insulin. The study participants were all recently diagnosed with diabetes, and they were given either the new drug or a placebo. Researchers then examined the ability of diabetics to produce insulin while taking the drug.

The drug contains the protein “GAD,” which is taken from insulin-producing cells. Researchers say the drug seems to have a protective mechanism, which may lead to new treatments to prevent — rather than just treat — type 1 diabetes. Currently, there is no cure for the disease.

The new drug, manufactured by the Swedish company Diamyd Medical, arose from research at UCLA. There, diabetes-prone mice were protected from developing the disease when treated with the GAD protein.

In addition to improving the body’s ability to make insulin, researchers say the drug also boosted the number of immune cells. They say the patients who had the greatest increases in these immune cells after treatment also showed the most improvement in long-term insulin production.

“Such long-term improvement in insulin production after the diagnosis of diabetes is quite remarkable,” says Daniel Kaufman, Ph.D., a professor at the UCLA Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology. His research team first developed and tested the drug on the diabetes-prone mice.

The human trial was conducted in Sweden and involved 47 adult patients who had recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The participants were divided into groups of which some received the active drug and others received a placebo. Researchers say none of the patients reported any side effects from the medication.

SOURCE: Presented at the International Diabetes Society meeting in Cambridge, England, March 29, 2004

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