An experimental drug is found to effectively delay the onset of type 1 diabetes among high-risk individuals to two or more years.

The study backed by the National Institute of Health is the first to show that immunotherapy can be used to slow down the progress of the inherited disease.

"This is a huge milestone. We've had trials that have been going on for a couple of decades, but they have not been able to prevent diabetes," declared Kevan Herold, a professor of immunology and endocrinology at Yale University and the lead author of the study. "This is the first successful trial to show that you can delay and possibly prevent type 1 diabetes."

New Type-1 Diabetes Treatment Trial

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Sunday, June 9, described the phase 2 trial of a treatment with an anti-CD3 monoclonal antibody. The researchers recruited 76 patients between the ages of 8 and 49 who have relatives diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The participants were tested to have diabetes-related autoantibodies, which attack the pancreas, and unhealthy blood sugar levels, which make them at high risk of developing the disease.

The researchers divided the participants. One group was assigned to take the experimental drug teplizumab over the course of 14 days. The other received placebos.

All participants regularly took the glucose tolerance test throughout the study period.

Among the control group, 72 percent of patients were diagnosed with clinical diabetes during the study period. Meanwhile, only 43 percent of participants in the teplizumab group developed the disease.

On average, patients in the control group received a diabetes diagnosis within 24 months. Those in the teplizumab group had a median time of 48 months.

A Milestone In Type 1 Diabetes Treatment

"The difference in outcomes was striking. This discovery is the first evidence we've seen that clinical type 1 diabetes can be delayed with early preventive treatment," said Lisa Spain, a project scientist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, in a press release. "The results have important implications for people, particularly youth, who have relatives with the disease, as these individuals may be at high risk and benefit from early screening and treatment."

The researchers, however, admitted that more research is needed to find out the long-term efficacy and safety of the experimental drug. The trial also has a number of limitations, including small sample size and lack of ethnic diversity.

Type 1 diabetes can affect anyone at any age, but it more commonly occurs among children and young adults. In the United States, about 5 percent of the total number of people have type 1 diabetes.

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