A drug which had previously been used to treat cancer, Zebularine, has been shown to be effective in preventing rejection of newly transplanted islet cells, the insulin producing cells of the pancreas.
Researchers from Lund University in Sweden tested the drug in groups of rats which were engineered to have type 1 diabetes. One group was treated with Zebularine and the other without treatment.
The procedure enabled the rats treated with Zebularine to maintain normal blood glucose levels for much longer than the untreated rodents, even after treatment had finished. For the rats receiving no treatment, only 10% of the rats were achieving normal blood glucose levels after 2 weeks. During this time, the other rats were receiving Zebularine treatment and 90% of these treated rats were able to maintain normal blood glucose levels.
After 6 weeks, none of these non-treated rats were achieving normal blood glucose levels, whereas amongst the group that had been treated for 2 weeks, just under 80% were achieving normal blood sugar levels. At the end of the study, after 90 days, over 40% of the rats that had undergone treatment were still able to maintain normal blood glucose levels.
The researchers are keen to explore further as the treatment allowed a more targeted approach towards suppressing the immune system. The research team, next wish to attempt to target dendritic cells (a specific type of white blood cell) and test to see if the results are even more effective.
The researchers reported that the rats treated with Zebularine displayed no signs of side effects. If the treat continues to show success, it could be used to improve outcomes for people with type 1 diabetes undergoing islet cell transplantation.
Currently, patients with type 1 diabetes have had a certain degree of success in initially eliminating the need for insulin injections but have needed to revert back regular injections after a number of weeks or months.

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