About 60 percent of people with type 1 diabetes possess a molecule called DQ8. Because of this common denominator between a lot of people with type 1, researchers hypothesized that blocking this molecule could potentially prevent type 1 diabetes.
Dr. Aaron Michels, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, led a study using a supercomputer to find the medication that would prevent diabetes.
“All drugs have off-target effects. If you take too much acetaminophen you can hurt your liver,” Michels says. “We took every FDA approved small molecule drug and analyzed HLA-DQ8 binding through a supercomputer. We searched a thousand orientations for each drug to identify those that would fit within the DQ8 molecule binding groove.”
And then, after running thousands of medications through the machine, they found methyldopa. Methyldopa is usually used to treat high blood pressure, but the supercomputer also showed that it had the power to block DQ8 without suppressing the patient’s immune system. The medication is taken orally three times per day.
“With this drug, we can potentially prevent up to 60 percent of type 1 diabetes in those at risk for the disease,” says Michels. “This is very significant development.”
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So far, the drug has been extensively tested on mice for 10 years, and Michels and his colleagues have moved on to human trials, using 20 participants with type 1 diabetes. The next step will be a larger human trial to further prove the researchers’ original conclusions to be accurate.
Michels and his colleagues also hope their supercomputer system will aid other research groups in the future as they look for off-label uses for already existing drugs.