NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Medication Helps Protect Insulin Production in Type 1 Diabetes

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Researchers shed light on how verapamil protects insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

A drug approved to treat high blood pressure, called verapamil, was found protective in people with type 1 diabetes. Over the 2-year study, the protective effects lasted as long as people took the drug, reducing the amount of insulin treatment required. 

The study, funded in part by NIDDK, was published in Nature Communications.

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, although it can appear at any age. In people who have the disease, the immune system attacks and destroys beta cells in the pancreas that make insulin—a hormone that controls the amount of glucose in the bloodstream.

Injections of insulin can prevent blood glucose from rising to dangerous levels, but treatment comes with health risks and high costs.

In previous research, a team from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that verapamil protected beta cells and reversed diabetes in mouse models of type 1 diabetes. In a small clinical trial, the drug improved the functioning of beta cells in people recently diagnosed with the disease. But it was unclear how and how long the drug worked. 

The team analyzed blood samples from 5 of the study participants who received verapamil and 5 who received a placebo. They found that levels of 53 proteins changed in the blood after a year of verapamil treatment. One, called chromogranin A (CHGA), stood out. It changed the most over time, dropping substantially in people who received the drug. 

CHGA is found in beta cells and suspected to play a role in the immune system attack that causes type 1 diabetes. CHGA blood levels were elevated in people with type 1 diabetes compared to healthy people.

Data from larger, ongoing studies of verapamil will be needed to confirm these results.—adapted from NIH Research Matters

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