Social networks pushing type 1 diabetes research forwards

Wed, 05 Mar 2014
Social media networks are becoming an increasingly important part of recruitment for clinical studies into pioneering research for type 1 diabetes.

Much of the cutting edge research, that is looking to hold back the development of type 1 diabetes, relies on studying patients with very newly diagnosed diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes develops when the immune system incorrectly recognises beta cells, the insulin producing cells in the pancreas, as being an invading organism. The attack on the pancreas is often swift and therefore researchers need to recruit patients with type 1 diabetes within 100 days of their diagnosis so that effects of treatments can be tested before the patients lose too much of their ability to produce insulin.

The importance of recruiting patients at an early stage is being presented at charity Diabetes UK’s Annual Professional Conference in Liverpool. The presentation also details how researchers are using new methods to bring in newly diagnosed patients with type 1 diabetes to participate in the trials. The methods being used include a dedicated Facebook page, a national database and a feedback group of patients to acts as a ‘Dragon’s Den’ to assist in reviewing the process.

One of these potentially ground breaking trials is the MonoPepT1De trial, which was funded by the JDRF. The trial used the new methods to recruit 24 patients meeting specific criteria that were selected from 216 newly diagnosed patients who were potentially eligible.

The trial is being led by researchers from Cardiff University and King’s College London and will investigate whether treating newly diagnosed patients with a fragment of proinsulin (a precursor to the hormone insulin) can prevent or reduce the destructive effects of the immune system in type 1 diabetes. The researchers believe taking small doses of the proinsulin fragments may boost the regulatory part of the immune system to prevent the killer cells of the immune system from damaging the pancreas.

The research study is small and will be used to test for safety. However, it may indicate whether the treatment has potential to fight back against type 1 diabetes. The new methods of recruitment have already been a crucial part of allowing the trial to take place and will help with a range of future research projects.

Commenting on the importance of the recruitment process Director of Research at Diabetes UK, Dr Alasdair Rankin states: "We know that recruiting for this kind of type 1 clinical trial can be hard. Patients have a lot to cope with when they have recently been diagnosed with a life-long condition and this also often leads to a high drop out rate. It is great that researchers are looking at innovative ways to help address this, as in the long term it could bring us one step closer to developing a vaccine for type 1 diabetes for future generations."
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