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Interferon Alpha Type 1 Diabetes

Researchers from the University of Texas Medical School in Houston concluded that a minimal dose of oral interferon alpha could preserve beta cell function for patients who are newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Dr. Stanley Brod, principal investigator of the trial explains that interferon alpha can extend the ‘honeymoon phase’ of the disease, allowing the body to still produce insulin from beta cells, which correlates with lower complication rates.The results of the Phase II trial are published in the July 1 issue of Diabetes Care, a journal of the American Diabetes Association. Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, afflicts more than three million Americans already. According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International 15,000 children are diagnosed with this autoimmune disease every year. Type 1 diabetes happens when the pancreas stops producing the insulin needed to transfer glucose from the blood to cells for energy. This results in too much glucose in the blood, which, can lead to kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, amputations, heart attack and stroke.

“A honeymoon phase sometimes occurs just after diagnosis as the body tries to rebound. Many patients experience a period when their need for insulin becomes minimal, control of blood sugar improves and beta cells partially recover. If the pancreas is still able to function, the highs and lows experienced by taking manufactured insulin can be decreased,” Dr. Brad explained.

In the Phase II trial, 128 patients aged 3 to 25 diagnosed with type 1 diabetes within six weeks of enrollment were randomized to receive 5,000 units of interferon alpha, 30,000 units of interferon alpha or placebo once daily for one year. Patients treated with 5,000 units lost only 29 percent of their beta cell function compared to 48 percent for patients receiving 30,000 units and 56 percent for patients receiving the placebo.

Before embarking on the clinical trial, Dr. Brad already conducted a study on oral interferon alpha in animals and a Phase I safety trial. “Autoimmune diseases, which occur when the body is attacked by its own immune system, are actually an alpha interferon immunodeficiency syndrome. Interferons are a group of proteins produced by cells in response to an attack by a virus,” he theorized.

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