Researchers with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) will begin testing whether a drug used to treat high blood pressure could be effective in the treatment of type 1 diabetes.
Two years ago, researchers tested the drug verapamil, known by the brand names Calan, Verelan and Covera-HS, on laboratory mice and found that it could lower blood sugar levels but in some cases could even reverse the disease.
Verapamil is a calcium channel blocker indicated for the treatment of hypertension, severe chest pain and arrhythmia. It is the only drug on the market that works to keep the pancreas’ insulin-producing beta cells healthy.
The research focuses on a protein known as TXNIP, which is overproduced in the pancreas’ beta cells when blood sugar levels are elevated leading to beta call death and inhibiting the body’s ability to product insulin. Previous studies by UAB researchers have shown that verapamil can lower TXNIP levels in the pancreas’ beta cells, leading to the eradication of diabetes in study mice.
Human trials of verapamil will attempt to address the loss of beta cells by promoting the patient’s own beta cell mass and insulin production. “There is currently no treatment available that targets diabetes in this way,” says Dr. Anath Shalev, director of UAB’s Comprehensive Diabetes Center and principal investigator of the verapamil clinical trial.
The three-year study will involve 52 people with type 1 diabetes. Participants will either receive verapamil or a placebo for one year, along with normal insulin pump therapy and continuous blood sugar monitoring.
Researchers say that verapamil could be revolutionary for people with type 1 diabetes, but they will also be susceptible to the drug’s potential side effects, which include abnormal heart electrical signals, lactating breasts in both men and women, severe skin rashes including Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS), and cardiovascular events.