Small human study will test a new approach to fighting diabetes

Anath Shalev, director of the University of Alabama in Birmingham's Comprehensive Diabetes Center

After years of lab work and animal studies, investigators at the University of Alabama in Birmingham will use a grant from the JDRF to determine if the blood pressure medicine verapamil can safeguard the pancreatic beta cells needed to produce insulin, pointing to a new approach in treating Type 1 diabetes.

The investigators are working on the theory that too much of the protein TXNIP in beta cells destroy them, disrupting the body's ability to naturally produce the insulin needed to control blood sugar levels. In the lab, they've been working with mouse models to prove that verapamil can lower levels of TXNIP in beta cells. And now they're recruiting 52 newly diagnosed Type 1 diabetes patients to put the theory to the test over a year of treatment.

Anath Shalev, the director of UAB's Comprehensive Diabetes Center and a principal investigator of the verapamil clinical trial said that "by lowering TXNIP, even in the context of the worst diabetes, we have beneficial effects. And all of this addresses the main underlying cause of the disease--beta cell loss. Our current approach attempts to target this loss by promoting the patient's own beta cell mass and insulin production. There is currently no treatment available that targets diabetes in this way."

This isn't the first time that academic investigators have highlighted TXNIP--thioredoxin-interacting protein--as a likely player in diabetes. UCSF investigator Feroz Papa fingered the culprit in 2012, saying that targeting TXNIP would likely protect beta cells from self-destruction, permitting continued production of insulin. Papa produced mouse models prone to diabetes but without the ability to produce TXNIP. And they were all protected.

Mouse models, though, aren't the same thing as humans, and this isn't the first diabetes "cure" to emerge from the lab. Investigators will know more after the first human study.

- here's the release