But researchers don't want to give oral insulin to just anybody, not even to siblings of children with Type 1 diabetes, who are at greatest risk of developing the disease.
Rather, they are enlisting the aid of families who have children with Type-1 diabetes, asking them to have their healthy children tested for the presence of certain antibodies, antibodies that scientists believe are an early-warning sign that diabetes has at least a 50-50 chance of developing within a few years.
The Gould family took part in that testing. Oliver, age 3, they learned, has the antibodies. Dave Gould said it was some of the toughest news yet for their family to hear.
"I just can't imagine that we could end up with another child that would have a likelihood of getting this disease."
But they see a ray of hope in all of it. The oral insulin study is testing a new treatment in which tiny amounts of insulin are delivered in pill form in an effort to postpone the onset of diabetes in vulnerable children. Oliver now takes a pill every day. Russell said there should be virtually no side effects, because unlike injected insulin, it doesn't go straight into the bloodstream. "The insulin actually doesn't enter the body as intact insulin. It doesn't have any effect on the blood sugar levels. In previous studies, it's been shown to be a very safe and effective treatment."
There is, as often is the case in research studies, a catch. Scientists need a control group to compare the studied group against to gauge the effectiveness of oral insulin. So half the children in the study will receive an empty pill instead of the insulin. None of the families will know whether their child is receiving the oral insulin or an empty pill until the study is completed. And that could be at least six or seven years from now.
Dave and Ellen Gould accept that. Anything that helps researchers make progress against diabetes is worth trying, they said. "This is the part we can do. We can be involved in a research experiment, and there's really no risk to Oliver in doing this. And, hopefully, we can help blaze a path toward finding a cure.
To learn more about free screening for type 1 diabetes risk and studies, call 1-800-HALT-DM1 (1-800-425-8361) or visit www.DiabetesTrialNet.org.
To see a list of clinics participating in the "Oral Insulin" study, visit http://www2.diabetestrialnet.org/oins.