A cancer drug known to help improve leukemia outcomes could also help people with type 1 diabetes, research has suggested.
Imatinib, which is also known as Gleevec, was tested in a small trial of 67 adults and was found to slow down the process of type 1 diabetes by preserving beta-cell function in the pancreas.
In a previous study, where the drug was given to diabetic mice, it not only prevented diabetes but also reversed the condition.
Speaking to Medscape Medical News, lead author Dr Stephen Gitelma, from the University of California in San Francisco, said: “We feel that imatinib is a novel, promising therapy based on the findings that adults with new-onset type 1 diabetes treated for six months had improved beta-cell function […] and reduced exogenous insulin needs out to 12 months.
“This is the first time this class of drug has been evaluated in a randomised clinical trial in type 1 diabetes, [and] the results are preliminary but encouraging.”
Despite the findings, Dr Gitelman stressed the medication was still a long way off from being administered to patients. He added: “This could one day be a treatment for type 1 diabetes, but this remains very early days, and we need to work through [certain issues] and conduct larger studies before the US Food and Drug Administration [FDA] will consider this further.”
The trial showed that on average those who received the drug were producing more insulin, as shown by higher levels of C-peptide levels in their blood. Consequently those treated with imatinib needed less insulin to control their diabetes.
The research team now plans to carry out testing the drug over the next two years to investigate whether the age of the person or the dose has much impact.
However, as the drug is very expensive it could reduce future availability to people who have been newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

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