Old TB Drug Might Reverse Type 1 Diabetes?


Tell me that an old tuberculosis drug might be able to reverse Type 1 diabetes, and I’ll have the following reaction: a moment of excitement, followed by the inevitable, “Yeah, we’ll see when that actually happens.”

But it’s Monday morning, my day is fresh, and I’m feeling optimistic. So I’m going to tell you exactly that: an old tuberculosis drug might be able to reverse long-term Type 1 diabetes, according to an article yesterday in Bloomberg News (thanks, Dad, for the link!). If I may quote:

An 80-year-old drug used to protect people against tuberculosis may help reverse Type 1 diabetes, the most severe form of the disease, in patients who have had it for years, an early study in six patients found.

The medicine killed abnormal white blood cells that interfere with insulin production in the pancreas, according to the study presented at the American Diabetes Association meeting in San Diego.

Patients getting two small doses four weeks apart showed signs of restored insulin production for about a week, Denise Faustman, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Immunobiology Laboratory, said in a telephone interview.

While many researchers are looking for ways to stop Type 1 diabetes in newly diagnosed patients who still produce some insulin naturally, there are few options for people who have had the disease for more than a decade, Faustman said. The findings suggest it may be possible to regenerate the critical pancreatic cells, she said.

“The trial effectively is showing for the first time that the pancreas can turn on briefly after the first wave of killing the bad T cells,” those that attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, she said.

While scientists may disagree about how the cells are restored, “If you are a long-term diabetic, you probably don’t care. It’s my conclusion that the pancreas has many ways to regenerate,” Faustman said.

About 26 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. As many as 10 percent have Type 1, in which the body’s immune system attacks pancreatic cells that produce insulin, the hormone that enables the body to use sugar for energy. Most diabetics have Type 2, an illness linked to obesity and resistance to insulin.

The drug, known as bacillus Calmette-Guerin or BCG, can boost levels of tumor necrosis factor, an immune modulator that has been shown in laboratory tests to eliminate the damaging white blood cells responsible for diabetes, Faustman said.

The Iacocca Foundation provided funding for the study. A second, larger trial is in development, Faustman said. The goal for the second study is to spark insulin production again, maintain it for a longer period and see how high they can get it, she said.

Okay, okay, it was six people. And turning on briefly (and mildly) for a week does not a cure make. But as Faustman points out, any indication that the pancreas can come back is good news to me. Happy Monday.



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Bridget McNulty
Bridget McNulty
11 years ago

Woohoo! I’ll take it. Any step in the right direction is a step in the right direction (yip, I just said that!)
Even if it takes a couple of years, it’s still hope, isn’t it?

Emily Patton
11 years ago

Thank you so much for this post, Catherine!  Just about everyone in my family called me when they heard about this study and it’s good to have your view, too.  We’ll all be waiting and hoping and waiting and hoping!

Bernard Farrell
11 years ago

When I first read about Dr. Faustman’s research in 2003, it brought tears to my eyes. At that stage I’d had T1 diabetes for over 30 years and had never thought that any type of cure would be possible…this is a complex disease. Since then I’ve been fortunate to raise money for Dr. Faustman’s research and to meet with her a handful of times, mostly to donate blood for the research. She’s been very careful to ensure that no-one can question the research, hence the double-blind placebo controlled approach which is much harder to do. @Nissim as I understand it,… Read more »

Michelle S.
Michelle S.
11 years ago

I’m with you…. i am usually pretty doubtful about a cure for those of us who have had diabetes for a while.  But i agree that any evidence that a pancreas could produce insulin again is kind of exciting.  and then when i allow myself to think about the prospect of living without this disease I can’t help but think how amazing it would be.

11 years ago

My 4 years old son has type one diabetes (since the age of 2.5 years old)
I heard today about this resarch and reacted the very same way you described… lets se wehn this will happen.

As a result of these news, interesting thought come up to my mind:
If the cause is damaged white cells, then will a person that has type 1 diabetes and his immune system gets damaged. will his pancreas produce insuline once again?
To be more specific: does an AIDS patiant that has type 1 diabites start producing insulin again…?

Just a thought…

11 years ago

Catherine,  I have been living with T1 for 10 years, and have been making visits to Dr. Faustman to give blood for her research for over 3 years.  She is a wonderful person, so full of energy, and she and her staff always spend time with us explaining the research and the progress they are making.  I truly believe that Dr. Faustman is on to the cure, and each time I go there, I have renewed energy to fight, to keep my levels under control, so that when she refines the dosages, my body will be in the best possible… Read more »

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