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Drug May Slow Type 1 Progression

Diane Fennell

December 31, 2009

A new study has found that rituximab (brand name Rituxin), a drug already used to treat autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, may slow destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells in people newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Roughly 15,000 people are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the United States each year.

The researchers conducted a double-blind study (a type of study in which neither the researchers nor the study subjects know who is receiving the active treatment and who is receiving the control treatment) that looked at 81 people between the ages of 8 and 40 who had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes within 100 days of enrolling in the trial. Participants were randomly assigned to receive infusions of either rituximab or a placebo (inactive treatment) once a week for four weeks.

After a year, the researchers found that people who had received the rituximab were able to produce more of their own insulin, required lower doses of injected insulin, and had better control of their blood glucose than those who had received the placebo.

Previous research has shown that a type of immune cell known as B cells might trigger another type of immune cell, known as T cells, to destroy the beta cells of the pancreas. Rituximab destroys B cells.

Lead study author Philip Raskin, MD, notes that “our findings in no way suggest that rituximab should be used as a treatment or that it will eliminate the need for daily insulin injections. This is not a cure for Type 1 diabetes.” Nonetheless, he suggests that “the results do…provide evidence that B cells play a significant role in Type 1 diabetes and that selective suppression of these B cells may deter the destruction of the body’s beta cells.”

To learn more, read the article “Approved Drug Slows Type 1 Diabetes” or see the study’s abstract in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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