We have known for years that insulin-dependent diabetes begins when a patient’s immune system attacks and destroys its own insulin-producing cells. A logical strategy is to thwart the immune attack through drug intervention. In 1984, several newly diagnosed diabetics were treated with the immune-suppressing drug Imuran. Unfortunately, those tested had already lost a large proportion of their insulin-producing cells. As a result, most of those tested were able to come off insulin for only a brief period of time. The key, specialists say, is to administer the Imuran before any overt symptoms of diabetes appear.
About seven years ago, Peggy Polopolus was identified by doctors at the University of Florida Health Center as a person “well on the road to insulin-dependent diabetes.” Her sister was diabetic and Peggy’s insulin was beginning to drop below normal levels. A newly developed test for cell antibodies showed that her immune system was attacking and disabling insulin-producing cells in her pancreas. Doctors gave Peggy twice daily doses of Imuran, and today Peggy is diabetes-free. As a result of Peggy’s success, her doctors are planning a nationwide trial of Imuran on 150 people at high risk for the disease hoping that “if we get people earlier, we may be able to prevent diabetes totally.”
(Discover, May, 1991)