Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Diabetes Center have discovered a safe and effective novel therapy to reduce insulin requirements and hypoglycemic episodes in adult subjects with recent onset Type 1 diabetes by promoting the patient’s own beta cell function and insulin production—the first such discovery to target diabetes in this manner.
The findings, published today by Nature Medicine, reveal that regular oral administration of verapamil, a common blood pressure medication first approved for medical use in 1981, enabled patients to produce higher levels of their own insulin, limiting their need for insulin injections to balance out their blood sugar levels.
The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human trial identified verapamil as a safe, effective, and promising therapy—a groundbreaking finding in the field of diabetes research.
“The data collected from our clinical trial gives us every indication to believe that individuals with Type 1 diabetes have the promise of a treatment approach that would reduce their external insulin requirements and improve their blood sugar control and quality of life, thanks to the effects that verapamil has in promoting the body’s own beta cell function,” said Anath Shalev, M.D., director of UAB’s Comprehensive Diabetes Center and principal investigator of the trial.
“While this research is not an end-all cure for Type 1 diabetes, these findings are getting us closer to disease-altering therapies that can enable individuals with Type 1 diabetes to have more control over their disease and maintain some of their body’s own insulin production.”
In 2014, Shalev’s UAB research lab discovered that verapamil completely reversed Type 1 diabetes in animal models and sought to test the effects of the drug in human subjects in a clinical trial, funded by a $2.1 million grant from the JDRF.
Verapamil has been Food and Drug Administration approved and available for prescription for the treatment of high blood pressure for more than three decades. However, Shalev’s research marks the first time that the drug has been tested for safety and efficacy in treating Type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes occurs as the result of one’s immune system attacking the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin to regulate and maintain optimal blood sugar levels.
When beta cells are being destroyed, a person’s ability to produce insulin declines, causing blood sugar levels to rise and making the person more and more dependent on external insulin. The UAB clinical trial discovered that when a patient takes verapamil, beta cell function is preserved, enabling the body to produce more of its own insulin.
This lessened the clinical trial participants’ reliance on external insulin, which all individuals with Type 1 diabetes must have to effectively regulate their blood sugar levels.