JDRF, the type 1 diabetes charityNewsResearch progress: 1960s blood pressure drug could protect beta cells in type 1 diabetes

Research progress: 1960s blood pressure drug could protect beta cells in type 1 diabetes

Posted on 17 August 2020

Type 1 diabetes researchers Dr Stephan Kissler and Dr Peng Yi
Researchers Dr Stephan Kissler (left) and Dr Peng Yi (right) found the blood pressure drug pargyline could protect beta cells from immune attack. Credit: Joslin Diabetes Center

A 60-year-old blood pressure drug could help protect insulin-producing cells from immune attack – a key step towards curing and preventing type 1 diabetes.

In research part-funded by JDRF, scientists found the drug, called pargyline, can increase the cells’ survival rate by defending them against stress.

Combined with a way to replace or regrow lost beta cells, treatments that can protect insulin-producing cells could one day form part of a cure for type 1 diabetes.

The researchers now hope to test the drug in a clinical trial, to see if it slows the progress of type 1 in people newly diagnosed with the condition.

Cutting-edge JDRF research

The discovery that pargyline may protect beta cells followed many years of innovative research, co-led by JDRF scientist Dr Stephan Kissler.

The researchers began by screening lab-grown beta cells for any genetic differences that might shield them against the immune system.

Switching off the cells’ genes one at a time, the researchers found that cells without the ability to make a protein called renalase were especially promising.

When these cells were tested in mice with a condition similar to type 1, the cells without renelase cells survived, while ‘normal’ beta cells were killed by the immune system.

When they compared the two cell types, the team found that the cells without renalase were less susceptible to a kind of stress that would normally trigger them to die.

Repurposing an existing drug

The research team then searched for existing drugs that could block the production of renalase, to see if this would have the same effect.

One such drug, pargyline, protected beta cells extremely well, both in isolated cells and in mice.

Dr Kissler and his team now hope to test pargyline in a small number of people newly diagnosed with type 1, to see if it slows the immune attack on their beta cells.

Dr Kissler, who is Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, said: “Since it’s FDA-approved and the drug is safe, this would be the best approach to test if the protection we observed in mice and human cells will hold true in people.”

Conor McKeever, Research Communications Manager at JDRF, said: “It’s great to see researchers using cutting-edge science to repurpose well-known drugs in the hunt for type 1 diabetes cures.

“We will be watching closely to see how their work progresses, as research like this could make a huge difference to the 400,000 people in the UK living with type 1.”

We need your help. COVID-19 has left a huge hole in our income and the impact will continue for a long time to come. We urgently need more funding to protect our research projects and deliver vital type 1 breakthroughs. We understand this is a difficult time for many of our supporters. But if you can, please give today.

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