Diabetes: First Patients Receive 'Ground-breaking' Drug That Could Regrow Crucial Insulin-producing Cells

File photo: A person injects insulin. Getty Images

A "ground-breaking" trial of a type 1 diabetes drug that could help reduce the life-altering complications of the disease has begun in Cardiff, U.K.

The first two patients in the world have been given an investigational drug that could regrow crucial hormone-producing cells, researchers have reported. If successful, the drug may reduce patients' reliance on daily injections.

More than 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, and around 5 percent of those have it in type 1 form. People develop the disease after the immune system destroys special insulin-producing "beta" cells. Insulin is a crucial hormone which moves glucose from the blood into other cells in the body. Type 1 diabetes patients usually treat the disease by monitoring their blood sugar levels and injecting insulin several times a day.

"More insulin-producing beta cells are needed for those with this form of diabetes and it is estimated that 90 percent of patients with Type 1 diabetes have less than 5 percent of insulin-making cells left," Mohammad Alhadj Ali, one of the study investigators, said in a statement.

Although important steps have been made in diabetes care, he added, advances in prevention are lacking.

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Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali, the sub investigator working on the study. Cardiff and Vale University Health Board

Day-to-day, diabetic patients must contend with the dangers of very high and very low blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar levels can lead to dizziness, confusion and cold sweats, for example. High blood sugar levels can cause a potentially deadly condition called diabetic ketoacidosis.

Chronic high blood sugar levels can eventually lead to eye, kidney, heart and feet problems, among others. These complications can lead to blindness, amputation and even death. At the moment, there is no cure for diabetes.

Researchers at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board's Clinical Research Facility hope the new drug will have a significant impact on the life of patients with type 1 diabetes. Three days after dosing, neither patient developed any major side-effects. But the research is in a very early stage, and it will be a long time before investigators have a thorough picture of the safety and effectiveness of the drug.

The team now wants to recruit eight more participants who have had diabetes for at least two years.

Carys Thomas, Interim Director of Health and Care Research Wales, called the trial "ground-breaking," and said the drug could potentially make a "big difference to people's lives."

In other diabetes news, researchers think a tuberculosis vaccine could offer a major advancement in the treatment of type 1 diabetes. However, critics caution the study investigating the vaccine is "far too small" to be considered a possible treatment for the disease.