NEW YORK, Nov 23 (Reuters Health) - People newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes may benefit from an experimental therapy that appears to halt the progression of the disease and lower the requirement for insulin, new research findings suggest.
Unlike type 2 diabetes, which comprises 90% of diabetes cases and is linked to obesity, type 1 diabetes results from the destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Frequently this destruction stems from an attack by the body's own immune system. Type 1 diabetics usually have to inject themselves with insulin to survive.
Dr. Dana Elias of Peptor, a biopharmaceutical company based in Rehovot, Israel, and colleagues have developed a protein, called DiaPep277, which blocks the destructive actions of the body's immune system against insulin-producing cells.
In a small study of 35 patients with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes, Elias and colleagues compared DiaPep277 with an inactive placebo.
Thirty-one patients completed the 10-month study. In patients receiving DiaPep277, concentrations of a protein called C-peptide, which indicates proper insulin production, were maintained, indicating that DiaPep277 maintained insulin levels. But in the placebo group, the levels fell significantly.
Furthermore, patients taking DiaPep277 showed a reduced need for insulin, the researchers report in the November 24th issue of The Lancet. They also report that they saw no side effects from the therapy.
"Although this study was small, treatment of newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes with DiaPep277 seems to preserve (a person's own) insulin production," the investigators conclude.
Elias noted that in patients already diagnosed with diabetes and requiring insulin, DiaPep277 may significantly improve their disease status and lessen insulin dependence. While the treatment does not bring back cells that have been destroyed, if given early enough it could possibly prevent diabetes, she said.
"For the last 80 years, type 1 diabetes patients could only look to improved insulin for better treatment, but no cure was available," Elias told Reuters Health. "DiaPep277 represents a major therapeutic advance in diabetes-specific treatment that targets the underlying disease, not the symptoms."
According to Elias, five DiaPep277 studies in Europe have either just been completed or are ongoing. "We are going to initiate the first study in the US in early 2002, " she said.
SOURCE: The Lancet 2001;358.