New Approach to Diabetes Treatment

ByABC News
November 20, 2001, 9:44 AM

Nov. 26 -- A new approach to treating diabetes shows promising results in small trials and may prevent the progression of the disease and ultimately reduce dependence on daily insulin injections.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 800,000 to 1.6 million Americans have Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. The disease is characterized by an inability to produce insulin that usually results when the body's own cells attack the insulin producing cells of the pancreas.

New research published in the journal Lancet suggests that this destructive process may be halted using a protein fragment known as DiaPep277.

In the study, one treatment group of 18 subjects received three injections of DiaPep in a six-month period and a second group of 17 subjects received equivalent injections of placebo. Both groups were followed for 10 months.

At ten months, subjects who received placebo showed a decrease in natural insulin production and an increase in their need for injected insulin. In contrast, subjects receiving DiaPep continued to produce consistent levels of insulin and required less injected insulin.

A New Approach

"When somebody develops Type 1 diabetes, we treat them with insulin to try and control their blood sugar," says Dr. Jerry Palmer, professor of medicine and director of the diabetes research center at the University of Washington, Seattle. "This is an intervention which is different from that."

Instead of replacing the insulin that is missing, DiaPep affects the underlying disease process.

"Since your own pancreas is still making some insulin, then the amount of insulin you would need to take to control your diabetes would be expected to be less," says Palmer.

However, DiaPep is not intended to eliminate the use of insulin altogether.

"The major therapeutic advantage for the patient would be delaying or preventing the secondary complications of diabetes," says Dana Elias, lead investigator of the study and vice president of research & development at Peptor -