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Can a promising treatment for type 1 diabetes eliminate the need for insulin?

February 17, 2014
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CFRI researchers were recently awarded an exciting new grant to support clinical trials of a drug with the potential to reduce or eliminate the need for insulin injections in children and adults with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Called the “Translations Program to a Cure Award,” this grant was funded by the JDRF Canadian Clinical Trials Network (CCTN) and WB Family Foundation.

This trial will investigate whether giving an antibody called ustekinumab to adults and kids newly diagnosed with T1D can protect enough insulin-producing beta cells to delay or eliminate the need for insulin injections.

“Previous research suggests that ustekinumab can block the part of the immune system responsible for the death of insulin-producing cells,” says Dr. Rusung Tan. “If we can start this treatment when individuals are first diagnosed, we believe we can turn down this harmful immune response and preserve these beta cells.”

Dr. Tan, the project’s principal investigator, is scientist and head of CFRI’s Immunity in Health & Disease research cluster and a professor of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine at UBC. Dr. Tan is also a medical microbiologist at BC Children’s Hospital.

“The longer that individuals with diabetes can safely stay off insulin injections, the easier it is for them to manage their blood sugar levels and the better it is for their long-term health,” says Dr. Tan.

Ustekinumab is approved and currently on the market for the treatment of psoriasis and comes with extensive clinical and safety data.

Recruitment will take place through the Endocrinology & Diabetes Unit at BC Children’s Hospital and through BC Diabetes. The trial will be led from CFRI.

More than 300,000 Canadians have T1D. Approximately 25,000 children and youth in Canada have type 1 or 2 diabetes and each year, 3,200 new cases are diagnosed.  

Children and adults with T1D must monitor their blood sugar and carefully balance insulin injections (administered either by needle or a pump infusion) with their diet and activity levels. This constant monitoring is critical for reducing the risk of disabling and potentially fatal long-term complications such as blindness, heart disease, kidney problems and nerve damage.

Dr. Jan Dutz is also a co-lead investigator with this trial. He is a scientist with CFRI’s Immunity in Health & Disease research cluster and a professor with the UBC Department of Dermatology and Skin Science.

The clinical leads are Dr. Dina Panagiotopoulos  and Dr. Tom Elliott. Dr. Panagiotopoulos is a clinician scientist with CFRI’s Diabetes, Nutrition & Metabolism research cluster; pediatric endocrinologist, BC Children's Hospital; and associate professor, UBC Department of Pediatrics. Dr. Elliott is the Director of BC Diabetes and a clinical associate professor, UBC Division of Endocrinology.

Dr. Ashish Marwaha is a UBC postdoctoral physician/doctoral student at CFRI with Dr. Tan’s lab.

JDRF CCTN funds clinical trials to accelerate solutions for the management, care, and cure of T1D. This new grant and the official launch of the JDRF CCTN were celebrated Thursday, February 13, 2014, at a special event at UBC.

Statistics and background information from JDRF Canada, the Canadian Diabetes Association and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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