A new study led by researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine and Indiana University suggests that an existing drug could be repurposed to treat type 1 diabetes, potentially reducing dependence on insulin as the sole treatment.
The research centers on a medication known as α-difluoromethylornithine (DFMO), which inhibits an enzyme that plays a key role in cellular metabolism. The latest translational results are a culmination of years of research: In 2010, while corresponding author Raghu Mirmira, MD, PhD, was at Indiana University, he and his lab performed fundamental biochemistry experiments on beta cells in culture. They found that suppressing the metabolic pathway altered by DFMO helped protect the beta cells from environmental factors, hinting at the possibility of preserving and even restoring these vital cells in patients diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Senior author Linda DiMeglio, MD, MPH, Edwin Letzter Professor of Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine and a pediatric endocrinologist at Riley Children's Health, launched a clinical trial to evaluate the safety and tolerability of the drug in type 1 diabetes patients. The results of the trial, which was funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and used DMFO provided by Panbela Therapeutics, indicated that the drug is safe for type 1 diabetes patients and can help keep insulin levels stable by protecting beta cells.
To follow up on the recently published results, first and co-corresponding author Emily K. Sims, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at IU School of Medicine and a pediatric endocrinologist at Riley Children's Health, launched a multi-center clinical trial, also funded by JDRF – with UChicago among the trial sites – to gather even stronger data regarding the efficacy of DFMO as a type 1 diabetes treatment.
The study, “Inhibition of Polyamine Biosynthesis Preserves β-Cell Function in Type 1 Diabetes,” was published in Cell Medicine Reports in November 2023.