Thirty year old blood pressure pill could be first cure for type 1 diabetes

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Common blood pressure pill to be tested as type 1 diabetes cure

Could it be possible that a 30-year old blood pressure pill could cure type 1 diabetes in humans? Mouse studies suggest it might indeed be possible, based on a decade of research that has lead to a clinical trial in humans beginning next year.

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The common blood pressure drug, known as verapamil, lowers blood pressure and reduces the workload of the heart. It is used primarily for treating patients with heart disease and sometimes for irregular heart rhythms because it blocks the influx of calcium into the cells helping restore normal heart rate. In mouse studies, researchers, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), led by Dr. Anath Shalev, found the drug stops production of the TXNIP protein that leads to death of beta cells in the pancreas.

Blood pressure pill preserves beta cells

In the animal models with the disease, verapamil completely "eradicated" diabetes even for mice with blood sugars over 300 mg/dL.

UAB researchers previously discovered high levels of TXNIP destroys beta cells in the pancreas, in turn stopping insulin production that is crucial for maintaining normal glucose levels.

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Dr. Fernando Ovalle, director of UAB's Comprehensive Diabetes Clinic and co-principal investigator of the study said: "Currently, we can prescribe external insulin and other medications to lower blood sugar, but we have no way to stop the destruction of beta cells, and the disease continues to get worse."

Verapamil has the potential to become a 'groundbreaking" treatment for diabetes that could save billions in health care spending.

There is no known cure for diabetes that affects 12.3 million Americans at a cost of $245 billion annually.

For the study, funded by the Juvenile Research Foundation, researchers will enroll 52 people with type 1 diabetes, diagnosed within the past 3-months, age 19 to 45. The trial will take place over a year and include participants who will either receive medication or placebo. The blood pressure pill that has been widely prescribed for years and is inexpensive could revolutionize diabetes treatment, though not immediately.

"While in a best-case scenario, the patients would have an increase in beta cells to the point that they produce enough insulin and no longer require any insulin injections -- thereby representing a total cure -- this is extremely unlikely to happen in the current trial, especially given its short duration of only one year," Shalev stated.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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