Taking on type 1: beating diabetes early

Every year, more than 15,000 adults and 15,000 children receive the life-changing diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.

This means careful monitoring of glucose levels, diet, and activities. From pumps to pens, medical research has developed better devices for treatment of type-one diabetes.

Now, the focus is shifting toward trying to stop the disease in its earliest stages.

A few months ago 16 year-old Samantha Coon started losing her appetite. No one realized how serious this really was.

Judy Burke, Samantha's mom, describes, "She just got sicker and sicker and we couldn't figure out exactly what was going wrong."

Samantha now knows she has type 1 diabetes; T-cells in the pancreas destroy beta cells that produce insulin.

Samantha says, "They told me I would be taking shots pretty much for the rest of my life.”

Now, in a clinical trial, patients in their first 100 days of type 1 diabetes who are still producing some insulin get different kinds of shots; Intramuscular injections of a drug called Alefacept (ah-leff-uh-sept).

Dr. Eric Felner, Associate Professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine says, "What we're trying to do is see if we can delay the progression of type 1 diabetes."

Alefacept has been approved to reduce destructive t-cell activity in another auto-immune disorder called plaque psoriasis. Researchers believe it could have a similar effect on diabetes.

Dr. Felner explains, "If we can provide a medication or some kind of intervention that will prevent those cells from being destroyed, then the hope is that these patients will continue being able to produce insulin on their own and not have diabetes."

For Samantha, it's too soon to know if the treatment's working, but she knows no matter what, she will be alright.

Phase two clinical trials for Alefacept are now underway at fifteen centers around the US. This is one of several drug trials targeting patients in the early stages of type 1 diabetes.


BACKGROUND: Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas does not produce insulin -- a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. When first diagnosed, it is believed that some cells in the pancreas are still viable and continue to produce insulin, but production lessens over time. Various factors may contribute to type 1 diabetes including genetics and exposure to certain viruses. Although type 1 diabetes typically appears during adolescence, it can develop at any age. Despite active research, type 1 diabetes has no cure, although it can be managed. With proper treatment, people who have type 1 diabetes can expect to live longer, healthier lives than in the past. (SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, www.choa.org)

SYMPTOMS: Type 1 diabetes signs and symptoms can come on quickly and may include:
• Increased thirst and frequent urination: As excess sugar builds up in the bloodstream, fluid is pulled from tissues. This may leave you thirsty. As a result, you may drink and urinate more than usual.
• Extreme hunger: Without enough insulin to move sugar into your cells, your muscles and organs become depleted of energy. This triggers intense hunger that may persist even after you eat.
• Weight loss: Despite eating more than usual to relieve hunger, you may lose weight -- sometimes rapidly.
• Fatigue: If your cells are deprived of sugar, you may become tired and irritable.
• Blurred vision: If your blood sugar level is too high, fluid may be pulled from your tissues -- including the lenses of your eyes. This may affect your ability to focus clearly. (SOURCE: Mayo Clinic)

ALEFACEPT: Alefacept is a protein that reduces specific actions of the immune system and may increase risks of developing or reactivating a chronic infection. In a clinical trial, patients in their first 100 days of having type 1 diabetes receive injections of the drug. Alefacept reduces levels of white blood cells in the body . If the levels fall too low, treatment may need to be withheld or discontinued. Alefacept may increase the risk of developing cancer. Patients should contact their doctors if symptoms of an infection develop such as fever, chills, sore throat, coughing, or burning with urination. They should not use alefacept if they had a previous allergic reaction to it; have heart or blood vessel problems; have cancer or a history of cancer; have an infection or history of chronic infection; are HIV positive; or are taking immunosuppressive medications or receiving phototherapy. (SOURCE: www.drugs.com)

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