Drug approved for treatment of psoriasis and Crohn's disease may protect beta cell transplants

Beta cell replacement therapy is one of several treatment options used to improve the health and quality of life of people with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Currently, JDRF-funded researcher, Dr. Jan Dutz, and his team at the University of British Columbia are investigating whether the administration of an antibody called ustekinumab among adults and children newly diagnosed with T1D can protect insulin-producing beta cells.

In T1D, the immune system’s T-regulatory cells (T-reg) attack and destroy beta cells leaving individuals with a lifelong dependence on either injected or pumped insulin. Blood glucose control is often imperfect, sometimes leading to an increased risk of complications stemming from chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which includes a shortened life span.

Studies have shown that ustekinumab, a highly effective drug approved for safe use in psoriasis and in Crohn’s disease, is successful in preventing T-reg cells from harming beta cells, thereby reducing the demand for insulin and preserving insulin secretion.

In Phase 1 of the Ustekinumab Trial funded by JDRF through the Canadian Clinical Trials Network, Dr. Dutz demonstrated that ustekinumab inhibits inflammation and can be safely administered to young adults with new onset T1D. As well, the drug was able to block the activation of T-reg cells in animal models and in humans with T1D, thus preserving beta cell function and insulin secretion.

In Phase 2 of the Trial, Dr. Dutz will be testing ustekinumab’s ability to inhibit the development of the disease in adults with recent onset T1D. The trial will see 60 young, newly diagnosed (within 100 days) adults randomly assigned to receive ustekinumab or a placebo for one year with their pancreas’ function monitored during that period. Knowing this drug will reduce the inflammatory proteins that cause beta cell destruction, Dr. Dutz believes it can also stop the advancement of diabetes by protecting the remaining insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, and allowing them to secrete insulin and regenerate.

Ustekinumab offers a potential new therapy that can prevent or slow the progression of T1D. As a result, newly diagnosed individuals will be able to decrease their dependence on insulin, better control their blood sugar and lower their risk of complications.

For more informative articles on health and type 1 diabetes, visit our JDRF Blog

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