Blood pressure drug boosts insulin production for adults with type 1 diabetes

Posted on 09 July 2018

Researchers in the USA have found that a common blood pressure drug can protect working beta cells and boost insulin production in adults recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Daily doses of verapamil, which was approved for clinical use in 1981, led participants to produce higher levels of their own insulin compared with those taking a placebo drug.

These findings suggest that there may be a safe and easy way of preserving beta cell function for as long as possible after a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.

The trial was funded by JDRF, and the results were published today in Nature Medicine.

Why did they do this research?

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells until they are no longer able to produce enough insulin in response to changing glucose levels.

In 2014, the team discovered that verapamil could completely reverse type 1 diabetes in animals. Based on these findings, JDRF gave the team over £1.5 million to run the first ever trial of the drug for adults with type 1 diabetes.

What did they do?

24 adults who had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the last three months before joining took part in the study. 11 participants took a daily dose of verapamil for a year while 13 participants took a placebo for comparison. All of the participants continued on their insulin pump treatment during the trial.

What did they find?

Participants taking verapamil had better beta cell function and natural insulin production than those on the placebo, both three months into the trial and at the end of the year.

This meant that those on verapamil had lower insulin requirements, with their daily insulin dose only increasing by 27% throughout the year, compared with 70% for the group on the placebo.

Participants on verapamil also had fewer hypos, and they appeared to spend more time in target glucose range than the placebo group.

What does this mean for type 1?

These promising results suggest that verapamil protects the beta cells and allows them to continue producing insulin for longer following the onset of type 1 diabetes.

This is an exciting prospect as it could mean that verapamil could be an additional treatment alongside insulin to improve the quality of life for people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

In addition, verapamil has been approved for human use for over three decades, and so we know that it is safe and well-tolerated by most people.

Assistant vice president of research at JDRF International Dr Andrew Rakeman said:

“At JDRF, we are excited and encouraged by the recent findings from the clinical trial. This data has the potential to change how we think about treating and ultimately curing type 1 diabetes.”

This study reflects a growing trend in medical research for repurposing existing medicines for different conditions. Because the medicines are already known to be safe for people, it speeds up the testing process for different uses.

What’s the next step?

This trial only looked at a small group of adults with a recent diagnosis of type 1, and so the researchers have indicated that larger studies are needed to test the effects of verapamil, and particularly in children and in those who have lived with type 1 diabetes for longer than three months.

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