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Experimental Drug Slows Type 1 Diabetes

Immune System Tolerance Slows Destruction of Insulin-Producing Cells
WebMD Health News

March 29, 2004 -- A novel drug designed to slow or even stop the progression of type 1 diabetes is showing promise in its first limited human trials. Eighteen months after treatment with the experimental drug Diamyd, a small group of patients was better able to produce insulin than patients who did not receive the drug.

At the International Diabetes Society conference in Cambridge, England, researchers reported that seven of eight patients with newly diagnosed latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), or type 1.5 diabetes, were still producing insulin a year and a half after treatment with Diamyd. Only about half of those patients who did not receive the drug were still producing insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is related to the immune system's destruction of cells that produce insulin. LADA is an adult form of the disease in which the immune system attack occurs later in life in people thought to be susceptible because they have antibodies to the pancreas detectable within the blood.

In the study presented at the conference, insulin production increased by an average of 50% among those who received Diamyd, and the responses were sustained, according to the president of the Swedish company that is developing the drug.

"For the first time we have shown that there is a chance that we can not only treat type 1 diabetes, but prevent it from occurring," Diamyd Medical's Anders Essen-Moller tells WebMD.

But a diabetes expert tells WebMD that much larger studies are needed to prove the experimental drug is effective.

"This is on the list of therapies that has not been tested fully in people yet, and it is hard to say how promising it is until more studies are done," says American Juvenile Diabetes Foundation chief scientific officer Robert Goldstein, MD.

Protect From Attack

Like other autoimmune diseases, type 1 diabetes occurs when a person's immune system mistakenly attacks itself rather than foreign cells. In autoimmune-type diabetes, the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are under attack. Over time, insulin production stops completely, and daily injections of the blood sugar-regulating hormone are needed.

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