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Type 1 Diabetes May Have a New Foe
Date:11/25/2009

Rituximab, already used to fight rheumatoid arthritis, could help newly diagnosed diabetics, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 25 (HealthDay News) -- A drug commonly used to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis now also shows some promise in helping patients newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

The drug, rituximab (Rituxan), helped patients keep producing some of their own insulin, even though the disease had destroyed some of their pancreatic beta cells, which produce the critical hormone, reports a study in the Nov. 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The results were on par with those seen in other studies trying experimental immune therapies for type 1 diabetes, said study lead author Dr. Mark D. Pescovitz, professor of surgery and of microbiology/immunology at Indiana University in Indianapolis.

But the findings have to be interpreted with a "little caution," warned Dr. Vivian Fonseca, professor of internal medicine at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and director of the Diabetes Institute at Scott & White in Temple.

"This paper doesn't appear as if this is a cure for diabetes. Patients did manage to produce more insulin themselves, but it's not a huge amount more. The insulin dose they used was a little bit less but not hugely less," he continued. "Even with this data, we're a long, long way from getting approval for using this kind of treatment. Also, the patients in the study were newly diagnosed so there is virtually no application for people who have had type 1 diabetes for some time."

But needing less outside insulin does have advantages. "We know that people who produce some of their own insulin tend to have less complications in the long term," Fonseca said. Those complications can include blindness and heart trouble, although in no way do researchers yet know if rituximab will reduce those problems in type 1 diabetics
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