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Researchers at Yale have developed a new oral medication for type 1 diabetes. In tests in mice, not only did the drug quickly adjust insulin levels, it also restored metabolic functions and reversed inflammation, opening up a potential way to prevent the disease.
Type 1 diabetes begins when a person’s immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells in their pancreas. These crucial cells are responsible for producing insulin, the hormone that converts glucose into energy, and as such patients require insulin injections multiple times a day.
For the new study, the Yale scientists developed a new nanoparticle drug vehicle that can not only ferry insulin to the pancreas safely, but the casing itself has therapeutic benefits. It’s made of ursodeoxycholic acid, a bile acid naturally produced in the body, which the researchers polymerized. That helps it bond better to receptors in the pancreas, improving metabolic functions and, most importantly, even reducing the rogue immune cells that destroy the beta cells in the first place.
“What excites me about this is that it’s a two-pronged approach,” says Tarek Fahmy, corresponding author of the study. “It’s facilitating normal metabolism as well as correcting immune defects in the long term. So you actually are curing the disease while you are maintaining insulin levels at the same time.”
The team tested the nanoparticles in mice with type 1 diabetes, and found that they worked to improve insulin levels, while the bile acid nanoparticles reduced inflammation and restored metabolic function. The team also found that insulin delivered through their oral capsules worked around seven times faster than that delivered through standard subcutaneous injection. Importantly, similar results were also seen in tests on pigs.
The results are quite promising, but of course, more work will need to be done to investigate whether humans would see the same benefits. The team says that the nanoparticles could also be used to carry other molecules, potentially aiding in the treatment of other diseases.
“The potential is enormous for diabetes and other disease states as well,” says Fahmy. “I am hopeful that this technical development will be leveraged in the development of urgent solutions to what are presently difficult challenges in autoimmunity, cancer, allergies and infections.”