July 10 (UPI) -- Verapamil, a long-time blood pressure medication, was effective in treating recent onset type 1 diabetes, according to a Phase 2 trial of adults.
Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmginham found that the pill reduced insulin requirements and hypoglycemic episodes by promoting patients' beta cell function and production of insulin. The findings were published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine.
"The data collected from our clinical trial gives us every indication to believe that individuals with type 1 diabetes have the promise of a treatment approach that would reduce their external insulin requirements and improve their blood sugar control and quality of life, thanks to the effects that verapamil has in promoting the body's own beta cell function," Dr. Anath Shalev, director of UAB's Comprehensive Diabetes Center, said in a press release.
Shalev noted the drug is not an end-all cure for Type 1 diabetes, but the trial's results are "getting us closer to disease-altering therapies that can enable individuals with Type 1 diabetes to have more control over their disease and maintain some of their body's own insulin production."
In type 1 diabetes, a patient's immune system attacks beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which is used to regulate and maintain optimal blood sugar levels. Sugar levels rise when beta cells are destroyed, leading to dependence on external insulin.
"This data has the potential to change how we think about treating and ultimately curing T1D," Dr. Andrew Rakeman, assistant vice president of research at JDRF, a nonprofit organization that funded the study.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved verapamil in 1981 for treatment of high blood pressure, and UAB researchers found the drug reversed type 1 diabetes in animals in testing in 2014.
The Phase II clinical trial monitored 24 patients between age 18 and 45 for one year, with 11 receiving verapamil and 13 receiving a placebo. All had diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes within three months of their start in the trial and continued with prescribed insulin pump therapy.
Researchers recorded the total daily dose of insulin, the amount of insulin produced, the percent change in insulin production and HbA1C levels. The number of hypoglycemic events also were recorded.
"Although this is a smaller sample group, our trial results give us promise that subjects with type 1 diabetes have therapy options and that we are nearing a more effective way to deal with this disease," said co-principal investigator Dr. Fernando Ovalle, director of UAB's Comprehensive Diabetes Clinic. "Beyond verapamil allowing subjects with type 1 diabetes the ability to live a life with less external insulin dependence, these findings will impact the quality of life that they can have."
Ovalle said improving overall blood sugar control will reduce risk for heart attack, blindness and kidney disease.
The researchers are planning long-term studies on with pediatric Type 1 diabetes patients and adults who have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes for longer than three months.
"This trial's results affirm that we are on the right track and are entering a new phase of discovery as it relates to this disease," Shalev said. "Diabetes impacts more than 30 million people in America alone, and hopefully our breakthrough will ultimately lead to approaches that can help improve the lives of all those affected by this disease."