Researchers have found that a rheumatoid arthritis drug might halt the progression of type 1 diabetes in individuals recently diagnosed with the condition.

A clinical trial conducted in Australia demonstrated that baricitinib, known as Olumiant, could preserve the body’s natural insulin production.

The team believes this breakthrough could revolutionise the management and treatment of type 1 diabetes.

Professor Helen Thomas, head of immunology at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne and lead author of the study, said: “We are very optimistic that this treatment will become clinically available.”

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the immune system destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.

What did the trial find?

The trial involved 91 individuals, aged between 10 and 30.

All had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes within the past 100 days.

It was a double-blind, randomised study, with 60 participants receiving an oral dose of baricitinib of 4 mg per day over 48 weeks and 31 participants receiving a matched placebo.

All participants continued their prescribed insulin therapy throughout the trial.

The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed that those receiving baricitinib could effectively preserve their body’s insulin production and slow the progression of type 1 diabetes.

After 48 weeks, the baricitinib group had significantly improved C-peptide levels compared to the placebo group, which indicated preserved beta cell function.

Baricitinib, produced by Eli Lilly, is a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor drug which is believed to suppress the immune response against insulin-producing cells in individuals with type 1 diabetes.

While insulin remains crucial, the researchers cautioned about the potential dangers if incorrectly administered.

Professor Thomas Kay, director of St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, who led the trial, said: “We showed that baricitinib is safe and effective at slowing the progression of type 1 diabetes in people who have been recently diagnosed.”

What is a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor?

A Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor is a type of drug that inhibits the activity of one or more of the Janus kinase family of enzymes.

By doing this, it interferes with the JAK-STAT signalling pathway which plays a part in inflammation and cell division.

JAK inhibitors are used as a treatment in the management of rheumatoid arthritis, certain types of cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Why is this research significant?

The trial signifies a significant step towards innovative type 1 diabetes treatments.

The significance of this research in potentially reducing insulin dependency among those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

In November, TrialNet launched a study testing JAK inhibitors from Pfizer and Litfulo to see if they can halt the progression of type 1 diabetes in newly diagnosed patients.

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