Researchers at Cardiff and Swansea Universities are running a new trial to investigate whether a medicine currently used for the skin condition psoriasis could also be used to help people with type 1 diabetes produce some of their own insulin.

Over 300,000 people in the UK have Type 1 diabetes and the drug used to treat them – insulin – has not changed in 98 years.

Measures to control diabetes. Image credit: Pixabay via (Pexels licence)

Measures to control diabetes. Image credit: Pixabay via (Pexels licence)

Type 1 diabetes affects both children and adults, starting from the age of 6 months. This condition is different from the obesity related form of diabetes, common in adults, and is caused by the immune system destroying the insulin making cells of the pancreas. Without insulin the body is unable to control blood glucose. This results in high glucose levels which can cause damage to the heart, eyes, feet and kidneys.

The drug being used in the trial, ustekinumab, is taken as an injection every 1-2 months and reduces the ability of the immune system to damage the insulin producing cells. It is already licensed to treat psoriasis, in which the immune system attacks skin cells, and appears to be very safe.

Professor Colin Dayan, from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said: “In the early stages of type 1 diabetes about 20% of insulin producing cells could still be working. We’re offering newly diagnosed patients the opportunity to potentially save some of these cells, making it easier for them to control blood glucose levels. This could also reduce their risk of complications.”

The trial is open to people aged 12-18 who are within 100 days of diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. Participants will be given the drug or a placebo over the course of a year.

Professor John Gregory, from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said: “Only a small proportion of people with diabetes get the sort of ideal control that we know reduces their risk of complications. The drug we’re testing could help some people achieve this control and significantly improve their quality of life.”

Professor Colin Dayan concluded: “We hope that at the end of this study we’ll have some idea of whether this drug is well tolerated and whether it works to hold on to the insulin.”

Source: Cardiff University