Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the University of Florida in Gainesville knew that people who possessed the DQ8 molecule were at an increased risk of developing diabetes, and that 60 percent of type 1 diabetes cases could likely be prevented if they could find a way to inhibit that molecule. So they developed a supercomputer program that could analyze different drugs to determine whether one of them could block DQ8.
“We took every FDA approved small-molecule drug and analyzed HLA-DQ8 binding through a supercomputer,” says Aaron Michels, MD, a researcher at the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes and associate professor of medicine at CU Anschutz. “We searched a thousand orientations for each drug to identify those that would fit within the DQ8 molecule binding groove.”
And after running countless different medications for a variety of ailments through the machine, they came across methyldopa, an oral medication usually used to treat high blood pressure. The drug is listed on the World Health Organization’s list of essential drugs because of its usefulness and safety, as it can even be prescribed to children and pregnant women.
Thanks to mouse lab studies, a 20-patient clinical trial, and the ten years’ worth of work by this team of scientists, methyldopa is also now known to prevent the onset of type 1 diabetes in people with the DQ8 molecule. Not only that, but it also manages not to harm the function of healthy cells in the process, which is a common problem with most other immunosuppressant drugs.
Michels says this is the first personalized treatment known to prevent type 1 diabetes. It also has very minimal side effects compared to many other drugs on the market today.
“We can now predict with almost 100 percent accuracy who is likely to get type 1 diabetes,” Michels says. “The goal with this drug is to delay or prevent the onset of the disease among those at risk.”
The next step is for methyldopa to go through larger clinical trials before it can be used by the general public in the prevention of type 1 diabetes.
The researchers hope that the same approach they used to find a drug for diabetes prevention could be applied to the prevention and treatment of other autoimmune diseases, as well as continue to help scientists work toward treating and curing diabetes.
Did you know type 1 diabetes isn’t just for kids? Click “next” below to read about the nearly half of type 1 diabetes cases that are diagnosed after age 30.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?