Alabama university cures diabetes in lab mice, looking for patients to test drug

Updated: November 9, 2014
Alabama university cures diabetes in lab mice, looking for patients to test drug

A common blood pressure medication has been found to reverse diabetes in mice and soon scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham will begin clinical trials to see if the same thing is possible with humans.

Researchers are enrolling 52 patients with newly diagnosed Type One Diabetes.

“It’s still a very burdensome disease to have and every day you wake up with the first thing on your mind is to check your blood sugar,” said Daphne Powell.

Powell has lived with diabetes since she was a young girl. She lives with the shots, the finger pricks and the pump.

“To think that that might not be the case anymore after 35 years is incredibly exciting,” she said.

Patients like Powell are already dreaming about the potential outcome of a new clinical trial at UAB.

“What we found was blood pressure medication that’s widely used called Verapamil is capable of inhibiting a protein that is toxic to the beta cell,” said Doctor Anath Shalev, Director of UAB’s Comprehensive Diabetes Center and principal investigator of the verapamil clinical trial.

Beta cells are the sole source of insulin, which controls blood sugar.

Shalev says saving those beta cells is what this clinical trial is all about, “Even though it’s been known that beta cell loss is a major cause of diabetes, both for type one and type two for many years, there are no targets that were known to address it and with that, no therapies that address it. And so, this is kind of the first time that we have something that really seemed to work, at least in those models.”

The drug verapamil is oral, already FDA approved.

It worked in mice. But, will it work in humans?

“Some of the specifically type one diabetes trials that have been successful in mice were not successful in humans,” said Shalev. “But the reason for that is that a lot of them were focused on the immune system which is quite different between rodents and humans, whereas this study has nothing to do with the immune system.”

Dr. Shalev believes this drug’s success can transfer from animals to humans.

The best case scenario is a total cure. But, she says even a small effect would have a major benefit to patients with diabetes.

Shalev believes risks would be minimal. The drug’s been on the market 30 years.

The clinical trial is scheduled to last three years. If research is successful, she says it would be a quick process to put it to use.