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Cancer drug neratinib offers hope for type 1 diabetes treatment

A drug used to treat breast cancer, neratinib, has the potential to halt the immune system from destroying beta cells in type 1 diabetes, according to German researchers.

Neratinib was able to guard the beta cells, which produce insulin in the pancreas, from attack. The JDRF-funded study showed that the treatment enabled the beta cells to continue to produce insulin.

When someone with type 1 diabetes is diagnosed with the condition, typically they have 10 to 20% of beta cells remaining. The researchers hope that early intervention could help to preserve the number of beta cells following diagnosis.

If the drug is effective at preserving the number of beta cells, it could make it easier for people with type 1 diabetes to control their blood glucose levels, and reduce the amount of insulin they may need to take by injection or insulin pump.

The researchers from the University of Bremen explored whether the drug could stop the process behind the immune system attack in type 1 diabetes. In experiments, they tested whether neratinib on cells similar to beta cells grown in a laboratory. They then explored whether neratinib could protect human beta cells. Additionally, they tested the drug in mice which had a condition similar to type 1 diabetes.

According to the results, neratinib halted the destruction of beta cells in lab-grown beta cells and human beta cells. When neratinib was not used, the same sets of cells died.

In the mouse experiments, those given neratinib were able to produce more insulin compared to those not treated with the drug. Also, the mice treated with neratinib had significantly lower blood glucose levels throughout the study, which lasted 35 days.

Commenting on the findings of the study, a JDRF spokesman said: “Although still in its early stages, this research reveals an exciting possible use for the cancer therapy neratinib in preventing beta cell death and preserving insulin production in type 1.

“In the future, this therapy could allow people with type 1 to continue to produce some of their own insulin, making them less reliant on insulin injections or pumps while having better blood glucose management. Coupled with a way to regenerate the beta cells already lost, therapies – such as neratinib – which prevent beta cell death may even lead to a functional cure for type 1.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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