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A diabetic girl injects herself with insulin, the most common diabetes treatment. Photo: Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty

A generic drug meant to address high blood pressure may supplement insulin therapy for people with recent onset type 1 diabetes, according to a new study published Monday in Nature Medicine.

Why it matters: If validated by larger studies, the drug may allow a patient to reduce insulin shots, keep blood sugar levels more stable, and protect important pancreas cells from the disease, which affects roughly 1.25 million Americans.

What they did: The research team tested 24 adults with newly onset type 1 diabetes, with 11 supplementing their insulin with verapamil and 13 following the insulin regime alone.

What they found: The authors found that verapamil with the insulin regime helps preserve the pancreas cells that naturally produce insulin (beta cells), lessening the amount of added insulin needed as the disease progressed, while also helping stabilize blood sugar levels.

The study is one of the first to target the cell function side of type 1 diabetes (T1D), which is important, according to David Harlan, co-director of the Diabetes Center for Excellence at UMass Medical School.

  • He says, "99% of research over the past 40 years has focused on the immune system side" rather than targeting beta cells.
  • Harlan, who was not part of the study, also emphasized the safety of the drug:
"There's always a risk/benefit analysis in diabetes treatment because as bad as T1D is as a disease, with modern therapies the prognosis is outstanding. New treatments must be safe, and verapamil is a very low risk, safe drug."

Go deeper: Verapamil is already FDA approved for treating hypertension. The research team said they were unable to obtain pharmaceutical funding for their research, so they relied instead upon funding from diabetes nonprofit JDRF.

"The [pharmaceutical] industry has no interest in this drug because it's generic and kind of cheap...As much as this helps patients, there is no money to be made."
— Study author Anath Shalev to Axios

The bottom line:

  • Because the drug has already been determined to be safe, physicians could theoretically prescribe verapamil now for diabetes treatment off label.
  • Shalev hopes there will be more trials in larger populations, particularly in children and patients who've had diabetes for a longer time but have retained some ability to produce insulin.
  • Harlan said patients with type 2 diabetes, many of whom already have hypertension, could experience dual benefits of verapamil.

Yes, but: The study only involved 24 patients over a year and was only tried on patients who had new onset type 1 diabetes. The authors said larger studies are needed before the medication should be used more widely to treat diabetes.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 5 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker

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