Two participants in a B.C.-led clinical trial into a cure for Type 1 diabetes no longer need to take insulin, in a first for the centuries-old research field.
Headed by BC Diabetes founder Dr. Tom Elliott, the trial is testing the viability of using a drug typically used to treat Crohn’s disease for tackling Type 1 diabetes in its early stages instead.
Type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition most often diagnosed in people under age 35 that causes a person’s immune system to destroy their insulin-producing cells. The Crohn’s disease drug ustekinumab, more commonly known by its brand name Stelara, is showing serious promise in stopping, and even reversing, that destruction.
Since their clinical trial began in 2021, Elliott said 20 Canadians have volunteered to take part and four have completed the 18-month study. Of them, two are no longer taking insulin.
It isn’t unheard of for people with Type 1 diabetes to suddenly be able to produce enough of their own insulin for a month or two at a time – known as a “diabetes honeymoon” – but it’s completely unprecedented for that to last 18 months, Elliott said. The difference, of course, is the introduction of Stelara.
“…early evidence from the study suggests that this immune therapy drug regenerates the insulin secreting cells that have been damaged by the immune system,” Elliott said in a news release.
What’s crucial is introducing the drug within the first 100 days of a person’s diagnosis. Elliott said an average person is born with about 10 billion insulin-producing cells, but by the time someone with Type 1 diabetes hits 100 days they only have about two billion left. This appears to leave just enough room for the Stelara to do its work.
With small but promising results so far, Elliott and partner researchers at the Leadership Sinai Centre for Diabetes in Toronto and the University of British Columbia are looking for about 50 more volunteer participants. Of them, two-thirds will receive Stelara, while one-third will receive a placebo. Participants have to be aged 18 to 35 and within the first 100 days of their diagnosis. The trial is free, but it does require 11 trips to Vancouver or Toronto.
Elliott said once all 70 participants have completed the 18-month trial, he’ll have a much better understanding of just how effective using Stelara is. If a quarter or more of people are doing well, Elliott said it would be a strong signal to do another study and possibly start using Stelara to treat Type 1 diabetes routinely.
“It would be profound,” Elliott told Black Press Media. He said right now there are likely about 90 Canadians who would qualify for his study.
Anyone interested in the clinical trial can contact the study coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.