Clinical trials have been a staple of diabetes research ever since 1922, when doctors in a Toronto hospital injected a young boy dying from the disease with pancreatic extracts. (The extracts contained the recently discovered hormone, insulin. The boy survived and lived another 13 years.)
These days, most diabetes clinical trials involve insulin or drugs: new insulin analogs in the case of people with type 1 diabetes and new medications, oral or injected, for type 2s.
In the offing, though, as the sophistication of tools and treatments increases, are islet transplantation, the manipulation of immune system cells, stem cell-derived replacement cells (and even organs), gene therapy and surgical intervention. Some trials involve high-tech machines, such as glucose monitors and insulin pumps.
Side note: Look for nanotechnology to emerge as an experimental treatment in the next few years. Microscopic machines could be programmed to alter or prevent certain autoimmune reactions that destroy or impair pancreatic functions.
Much of what clinical trials test is cutting-edge. While there is no guarantee that an experimental drug or procedure will do what its makers designed it for, trial participants hope to enjoy early benefits from a possibly breakthrough treatment.
Another benefit of participation in a trial is that subjects often receive sophisticated monitoring and advice from some of the best experts in the field of diabetes treatment.
What Does It Take to Participate?
How do you get to participate in a clinical trial?
First, you have to fall into the category that researchers are looking for. For instance,
- Are you type 1 or type 2?
- Have you been recently diagnosed, or have you had the disease for years?
- Are you a member of a particular ethnic group? For example, some trials look specifically for Mexican Americans or African Americans to study.
- If you don’t have diabetes yourself, are you related to or take care of somebody who does?
- Are you in a certain age group? Some studies focus, for example, on children and adolescents.
- Are you geographically available? Most clinical trials prefer to work with subjects who can travel regularly to a hospital or clinic for treatment and follow-ups. The farther away you live from a test site, the less likely that researchers will want to enroll you in a trial.
- Are you using a product whose manufacturer wants to improve or replace it? The manufacturer may see you as an important control in terms of comparing the ease and efficiency of old vs. new technology.
- Are you willing to be the unknowing recipient of a placebo rather than the actual drug or treatment under trial? In any scientific test, somebody has to be in the control group.
Where Do You Find a Trial?
Where can you find a clinical trial to join? Fortunately, there are several public websites you can visit to see which trials are seeking participants.
American Diabetes Association
The ADA has a discussion of clinical trials in general and links to other sites where you can find information on current trials.
www.clinicalconnection.com is an easy-to-navigate site. When Diabetes Health tried a nationwide search, we instantly received a list with the topics and locations of 20 studies in:
- Diabetes Type 2, Los Angeles
- Type 2 Diabetes, Houston
- Type 2 Diabetes, Chicora, Pa.
- Type 2 Diabetes, Plano, Texas
- Type 2 Diabetes, Phoenix
- Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy, Fountain Valley, Calif.
- Diabetic Obesity, Santa Ana, Calif.
- Type 2 Diabetes, Phoenix
- Diabetes, Las Vegas
- Diabetic Neuropathy, New York City
- Obesity/Diabetes, Baltimore
- Type 2 Diabetes, Baltimore
- Type 2 Diabetes, Garden Grove, Calif.
- Type 2 Diabetes, Miami
- Diabetes, St. Louis
- High Cholesterol, Dallas
- Type 2 Diabetes, San Antonio
- New Onset Diabetes, Marion, Ohio
- Type 2 Diabetes (Drug Naive), Kettering, Ohio
- Type 2 Diabetes, St. Louis
A service of the National Institutes of Health, Clinical Trials is a registry of federally and privately supported clinical trials now underway in the United States and worldwide. The site gives comprehensive information about a trial's purpose, who may participate, locations and contact information.
Currently, the site only lists studies dealing with type 1. You access the studies by clicking on the “List by Condition” option, then on “Immune System Diseases.”
TODAY is a nationwide study of treatment options for type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents.
One page links to various medical centers nationwide that are conducting studies in this area, including:
- Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Los Angeles
- Children's Hospital of Denver, Denver
- University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City
- The Texas Diabetes Institute Children's Center, San Antonio
- Texas Children's Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston
- Washington University School of Medicine/St. Louis University, St. Louis
- Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Cleveland
- Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh
- Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia
- Joslin Diabetes Center at SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, N.Y.
- Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
- Massachusetts General Hospital/Joslin Diabetes Center, Boston
- Berrie Center at Columbia University, New York City
TrialNet is an international network of diabetes centers dedicated to the study, prevention and early treatment of type 1.
Go ahead and check out the opportunities. You’ll be helping to advance scientific knowledge and you just might be part of the cure.