Immuno-Suppressant Drugs and Type 1 Diabetes

Mary Kate Cary Health Guide
  • There have been two studies lately – one three years ago published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and then a second one just out now that replicated it – that contain great news about stopping the auto-immune attack in newly-diagnosed diabetes. Researchers from Columbia University, the University of California at San Francisco, and NIH’s National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases have found that giving a certain antibiotic to newly diagnosed Type I patients dramatically slowed the autoimmune attack. Prolonged “honeymoon” periods resulted when the patients were given “Ala-Ala,” also known as a humanized Fc-mutated anti-CD3 monoclonal antibody.
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    Anyway, what this means is that scientists are making progress at holding the immune system back, so that insulin-producing cells are not destroyed so quickly. The idea is to figure out how to restrain the immune attack on insulin-producing beta cells – but not its attack on germs, viruses and bacteria. Immuno-suppressant drugs hold back the entire immune system, not just the attack on the certain cells. They work across the board.

    Immuno-suppressant drugs are now used to hold the immune system back, say, after a transplant – but they are so lethal that they are not given to children. Basically, for most people it’s better to have diabetes than it is to take immuno-suppressant drugs.

    But the idea is if you were to give the Ala-Ala antibiotic -- it sounds vaguely Hawaiian to me -- to people newly diagnosed with diabetes, and then give them a shot of the chemical trigger that spurs beta cell regeneration, you’d be golden. (See my previous blog about the chemical trigger.) You’d basically be slowing the destruction of old beta cells on one hand, and spurring the production of new beta cells on the other. You’d want the production of new cells to outpace the destruction of the old, so you’d return to the level of insulin production just the same as before the diabetes struck.

    I once heard Dr. James Shapiro, a leading diabetes expert, say that his dream is sit across his desk from a person newly diagnosed with diabetes and simply write them a prescription for a cure. It’s entirely possible that the cure for diabetes will be just that – a prescription for two shots: one of a chemical trigger to spur beta cell regeneration, and another of antibiotics to slow the destruction of beta cells. Two shots every few months. That sure beats six shots a day.
Published On: December 07, 2005