Back to the Future for Cancer Drug That May Help Type 1s

Investigators at Sweden’s Lund University believe they have identified a new Type 1 use for an old cancer drug. Zebularine, a tumor treatment drug developed in the 1960s, may be used to suppress the immune system to help treat autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Lead researcher Dr. Henrietta Nittby said in a report that the drug could be used to curb the body’s attacks on its own tissue in autoimmune diseases, like Type 1 diabetes. It also could be used to help make tissue and organ transplantation more successful. If so, it may even help protect transplanted islet cells from being destroyed by the body’s own defenses.

Researchers tested the ability of the old drug to express two immunosuppressive enzymes over a period of 14 days in rats that had been given diabetes. The rats given Zebularine had normal blood sugar levels for an average of 67 days, compared with 14 days among controls that did not get the drug. In addition, half of the treated rats still had normal glucose levels after 3 months.

The Lund researchers will continue to refine treatments using Zebularine, aiming next to get a selected group of immune system cells to bind to specific proteins because of exposure to the drug. The hope is that further successful tests will someday produce a way to stop the immune system from attacking healthy cells, as happens in Type 1 diabetes.

Chris Leach was the founding editor of numerous diabetes publications, including Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Health Matters. A lifelong entrepreneur, he also founded New Jersey Monthly and was part of the team that created ESPN, the Magazine. Chris passed away in 2013.

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