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If the results of a new study are anything to go by, then a drug formerly used to cure a skin disorder could be the key to a new kind of diabetes treatment.
A small trial on US patients found Alefacept (marketed as Amevive) which was normally prescribed to treat psoriasisfor over a decade (believed to be an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system attacks healthy skin cells) helped in the production of insulin, which is vital for people with type 1 diabetes.
The discovery could lead the way to new treatment options for diabetics which would slash their reliance on insulin therapy.
Details of the study
The focus of the study was to determine whether alefacept has the potential to help treat type 1 diabetes. The drug targets two types of cells that attack the pancreas which produce insulin. Experts theorized that alefacept might be effective in managing diabetes and stabilizing insulin production.
For the purpose of the study, they recruited 49 diabetics between 12 and 35 years old. Among them, 33 received alefacept while 16 were assigned to a placebo. The alefacept users received weekly shots for 12 weeks, followed by a break of 12 weeks, and then the 12 week regimen was repeated. The control group was given placebos in the same schedule.
Subsequently, the subjects were screened and underwent blood tests to measure the amount of insulin that the pancreas produced within two and four hours of consuming food.
Outcome of the trial
It was noted that insulin production remained about the same for both groups after two hours. However, alefacept users were able to preserve insulin secretion after four hours while insulin levels dropped in the placebo group.
in addition, the alefacept group were using less supplementary insulin after one year as opposed to the placebo group. They also experienced fewer episodes of hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels) from an insulin shot.
Lead researcher Prof Mark Rigby of Indiana University and the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis said, "Although the primary endpoint was not met, several key secondary endpoints were significantly different between treatment groups, suggesting that alefacept might preserve pancreas cell function during the first 12 months after diagnosis."
The study was published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology on September 22.