Magazine article Science News

Diabetes Aurtoimmunity Seen, Stopped

Magazine article Science News

Diabetes Aurtoimmunity Seen, Stopped

Article excerpt

Diabetes Autoimmunity Seen, Stopped

Early use of a potent immune-system suppressor could stop the destruction of insulin-producing cells in diabetics, some of whom may then be able to discontinue insulin injections, according to reports this week on two recent clinical trials. Scientists say the findings, based on studies with the drug cyclosporine, strongly support the theory that diabetes is an autoimmune disease.

At this week's international confermence on diabetes in St. Louis, John Dupre of the University of Western Ontario in London presented the results of a clinical trial using cyclosporine to treat type I diabetes. The most severe form of the disease, type I diabetes usually begins during childhood or adolescence, and currently affects about 1 million patients in the United States. Symptoms appear when islet cells in the pancreas stop producing enough insulin to process sugar, and treatment generally requires repeated insulin injections.

In a recently completed study of 188 patients at 12 diabetes centers in Canada and Europe, cyclosporine "unequivocally' increased the rate of remission, Dupre told SCIENCE NEWS. "At one year,' he says, "about 25 percent of the patients on cyclosporine are off insulin, compared to about 10 percent on the placebo.' The group also noted that patients treated earlier (within two weeks of beginning insulin use) did better, with 30 percent in remission compared to 3 percent of the controls.

These results follow a preliminary stody reported in 1984, in which Dupre and his co-workers had found that about half the 41 diabetics tested could discontinue insulin therapy if given cyclosporine, a drug normally used to suppress organ rejection following transplantation. This "unexpectedly high rate of remission' persisted during the yearlong study, says Dupre. He adds, however, that because most patients relapsed after cyclosporine therapy stopped, such therapy likely would have to continue indefinitely. …

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