Skin Disease Drug Holds Promise for Type 1s

File this news under “potential breakthrough you didn’t see coming.” Researchers have tried–and seem to have succeeded–in slowing the destruction of beta cells by treating recently diagnosed people with type 1 diabetes with alefacept, a drug usually prescribed to treat psoriasis, a disorder that leaves skin red and itchy.

So why did the treatment appear to be effective? It has to do with one simple fact: The same cells that cause psoriasis also attack the insulin-producing beta cells in people with type 1 diabetes. Alefacept goes after those cells, so scientists theorized that it might be a promising treatment for diabetes.

The study was small, but produced interesting results. Forty-nine type 1s took part, with 33 of them receiving the drug and 16 getting a placebo. The researchers wanted to see, first off, if alefacept increased insulin production two hours after patients ate. It didn’t seem to do that.

However, the drug did end up boosting insulin production some four hours after they ate. And most importantly, a year after their regimen started, these patients were using less insulin overall and experiencing fewer low blood sugar episodes from the treatment.

In their conclusions, scientists said that this suggested that alefacept was a worthwhile treatment for newly diagnosed type 1s, and that it indeed preserved some level of beta cell function.

As Diabetes Health contributing editor Patrick Totty wrote late last month (, research that comes from unusual places and targeting novel approaches can be immensely valuable. It might be the source of the next big breakthroughs in diabetes treatment. So something as peculiar sounding as treating people with diabetes with a drug meant for a skin condition shouldn’t be taken lightly. It, and other work like it, holds great promise.

The study was overseen by Mark Rigby of Indiana University and the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.


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