A drug used to treat psoriasis and arthritis could potentially curb insulin dependence in people with type 1 diabetes.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia are recruiting 20 participants between the ages of 18 and 35 to test the drug – ustekinumab, sold as Stelara in the UK. A molecule used in the drug may be able to protect the body’s insulin-producing beta cells well enough to delay or even remove the dependence on insulin injections for people with type 1 diabetes.
The upcoming trial, known as UST1D, is a 12-month study, and one of the first to target the immune cells that are responsible for the development of type 1 diabetes. The researchers aim to find out whether ustekinumab can reduce the number of insulin doses in people with recently diagnosed type 1 diabetes, or even remove the need altogether.
Stelara is currently approved for the treatment of psoriasis and arthritis. It has not yet been approved safe for people with type 1 diabetes.
There have been a number of studies examining the treatment of immune system-regulating drugs on other autoimmune conditions. Those focusing on the treatment of type 1 diabetes have been largely unsuccessful, but they have been more or less free of dangerous side effects.
Even if the study is not successful in reducing the dependence on insulin in people with type 1 diabetes, however, it will still be useful. By revealing something about the response of type 1 patients to immune system-regulating therapy, the trial could significantly inform future research on the subject.
“As one of the first clinical trials to target the immune cells that cause type 1 diabetes, we are hopeful that this treatment will be a step towards finding a way to stop or slow the destruction of the body’s own insulin-producing cells.”
Dr. Tom Elliot, endocrinologist and diabetes specialist at Vancouver General Hospital, said: “The study of ustekinumab to treat recently diagnosed type 1 diabetes is among the most important we’ve conducted to date. If it […] eliminates the need for insulin injections, the lives of type 1 diabetes patients will dramatically improve.
“My research team has identified a molecule that’s been used very successfully for treating a form of arthritis, that looks like a very good candidate to stop the destruction of insulin-secreting cells that is the cause of type 1 diabetes.”
The trial is being funded by JDRF Canada. Dave Prowte, the organisation’s president, said: “The trial is extremely important since it will help us understand how patients respond to a therapy that alters the immune system, and could create new treatment approaches.”

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