A drug that could help people with Type 1 diabetes is currently being trialed in the UK, which could bring an end to insulin injections in the future.
The trials are being run by researchers at the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board in Wales, who said that two patients had been given the drug in a clinical trial. This is the first time this investigational drug has been used anywhere in the world.
The drug works by helping “beta” cells, which make insulin, regrow in the pancreas. People with Type 1 diabetes, of which there are about 400,000 in the UK, cannot make enough of these cells and must top up their insulin with injections. Without insulin, glucose levels in the blood can become too high.
If this drug can be successful in spurring the regrowth of beta cells, then it could mean patients need to rely less on insulin injections. At the moment it is too early for the trial to say whether the drug was effective, but after 72 hours there have been no negative side effects.
“Despite everything achieved in diabetes care, advances in prevention haven’t really occurred,” Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali, who is working on the study, said in a statement. “More insulin-producing beta cells are needed for those with this form of diabetes and it is estimated that 90 percent of patients with Type 1 diabetes have less than 5 percent of insulin-making cells left.”
The researchers are hoping for a total of eight adult volunteers who have had diabetes for more than two years to take part in their study. They are also running a wider program of studies to look at other ways to preserve and regrow insulin-producing cells.
“I’m really grateful that I was given the opportunity to take part in this study,” the first patient to receive the drug said. “I hope that my participation will help with the management of Type 1 diabetes for future generations.”
The majority of people with diabetes have Type 2, rather than Type 1, with the former often linked to obesity. A drug like this to treat the latter, however, could be “ground-breaking”, according to Carys Thomas from the Welsh Government's Health and Care Research Wales team.
“Developing new treatment options for patients living with diabetes is a top priority for Health and Care Research Wales,” she said. “It is essential that the NHS works closely with the pharmaceutical industry on research like this to develop drugs that could make a big difference to people’s lives.”