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Cancer Drugs May Treat Type 1 Diabetes

Experiments in mice show Gleevec and Sutent reverse, prevent autoimmune disease

TUESDAY, Nov. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Gleevec, a wonder drug that effectively treats leukemia and other cancers, may also reverse type 1 diabetes, University of California San Francisco, researchers report.

In experiments with mice, they found that Gleevec and a similar cancer drug, Sutent, could prevent the onset of type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and is caused by the inability of the body to make insulin.

"Although targeted to the Bcr-Abl kinase, Gleevec has been shown to affect related kinases including platelet-derived growth factor potentially involved in various cell types critical to the development and progression of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes," lead researcher Jeffrey Bluestone, director of the Diabetes Center at the University of California, San Francisco, said.

The study shows that this class of drugs could prevent and reverse diabetes in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes, Bluestone said. "Moreover, a significant percentage of the animals remain in long-term remission even after discontinuation of the therapy," he added.

The report was published in this week's online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In their experiments, Bluestone's team found that in mice treated with Gleevec (imatinib) and Sutent (sunitinib) for seven weeks before the onset of type 1 diabetes did not develop the disease long after treatment was stopped.

In addition, they found that 80 percent of the animals who had type 1 diabetes had their disease reversed when given Gleevec or Sutent for eight to 10 weeks.

Drugs in the same class might be used to treat type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases, Bluestone said. In addition, the study shows the role platelet-derived growth factor may play in causing type 1 diabetes, he said.

Teodora Staeva, from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, thinks the results of the study are important, but whether the drugs can treat diabetes in people safely still has to be established.

"What is exciting is that this is a new class of compounds to modulate autoimmunity," Staeva said. "The findings here suggest that they may be potentially useful in type 1 diabetes."

Staeva noted that other drugs have been able to reverse diabetes, but when the drug is stopped, the disease comes back immediately. "What is encouraging here is that when they stopped the 10-week regimen, they still see a prolonged remission from the disease," she said.

Despite these encouraging findings, Staeva isn't sure how well the results will translate into human diabetics. "The biggest unknown right now is the safety," she said.

"Where one is not dealing with a life/death situation, one has to be much more careful about the potential safety of the drug," she said.

More information

For more about type 1 diabetes, visit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International.

SOURCES: Jeffery Bluestone, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco, Diabetes Center; Teodora Staeva, Ph.D., Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, New York City; Nov. 17-21, 2008, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online

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