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Diabetes: New Treatments

Topic Overview

In recent years, the research into new treatments and cures for diabetes has shown promise. Research also offers hope that diabetes will become easier to monitor and treat, or even that a cure may be found in the near future. But all of these treatments are experimental.

Treatment areas currently being explored include:

  • Blood sugar monitoring technologies.
  • Dietary therapies.
  • Insulin therapies.
  • Genetic therapies.

If you have a strong interest in any of these treatments, discuss the treatment with your doctor.

New blood sugar monitoring technologies

Better monitors and lancets that minimize the pain from frequent finger sticks or that allow alternate testing sites, such as your forearm, are now in use.

A continuous glucose monitor is a device with a sensor that is placed under the skin to measure blood glucose.

A combination insulin pump and glucose monitoring system is approved for adults by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). With this system, you insert a disposable sensor under the skin around your waist. The sensor measures your blood sugar over 280 times a day. An alarm sounds if you have unsafe sugar levels. You still need to test your blood sugar using finger sticks to calibrate the device and before changing your insulin dose. This device has the potential to give you more information about how diet, exercise, and medicines affect blood sugar levels.

New dietary therapies

New dietary research has shown that certain foods may have an even more beneficial effect on diabetes treatment than was first thought. For instance, increasing your consumption of soluble fiber has been proved to help prevent high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) as effectively as taking an oral hypoglycemic medicine. Also, eating foods with a lower glycemic index may help keep your blood sugar levels within your target range.

Diabetes can be greatly affected by what you eat. New research reaffirms this and reinforces the importance of having a registered dietitian on your diabetes treatment team. A registered dietitian can help you determine which new dietary recommendations might be helpful.

New insulin therapies

The insulin patch is another new method currently under development. An insulin patch functions much the same way as a nicotine patch. A patch is placed on your skin, usually on your arm, where it delivers a constant low dose of insulin. To increase your insulin dose at meal times, you remove a tab on the patch to expose the skin to more insulin. While the patch provides a very convenient, painless method of insulin delivery, insulin does not travel through the skin easily.

New shorter needles are available that make it less likely that you would inject insulin into a muscle. Newer needles are also smaller in diameter, which makes injections less painful.

Genetic therapies

Researchers have recently identified a gene that is linked to insulin resistance and that might predispose a person to type 2 diabetes. This gene seems to promote excess production of a protein called PC-1, which interferes with insulin's ability to help a cell use glucose. It is hoped that this knowledge will help identify people who may develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives and possibly help improve their treatment. Possible therapies might include:

  • Diabetes vaccines. An experimental vaccine to prevent type 1 diabetes is being tested in mice. The vaccine, composed of DNA, is designed to stop or prevent the body's destruction of its islet cells.
  • Gene therapy. Scientists have genetically engineered liver cells to produce insulin. This procedure varies slightly from islet cell transplants because the DNA that produces insulin is actually inserted into liver cells. A drawback of this therapy is that insulin produced by the liver is not regulated in the same way it would be if it were produced by the pancreas. The liver does not increase the output of insulin when a person eats and then decrease it between meals. Instead, the liver produces a fairly constant amount of insulin. This could cause problems at meal times for some people who have diabetes.
  • Stem cells. Researchers are exploring whether stem cells might be used to make cells that produce insulin. Stem cells are early cells that have the ability to grow into any type of cell.
  • Immune system modulators. Scientists are studying whether certain medicines can be given to people early in the course of their type 1 diabetes to keep their remaining insulin-producing cells from being destroyed.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
David C.W. Lau, MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology
Last Revised July 16, 2013

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