UAB study aims to find cure for diabetes, needs volunteers

CBS 42 Investigates

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Can you imagine a world free of diabetes? That’s the ultimate goal of researchers at UAB, where a groundbreaking human clinical trial is now underway, but more volunteers are needed.

It’s a story WIAT 42 first told viewers about last year. After years of research, UAB scientists were able to prove that Verapamil—a common blood pressure medication—could reverse diabetes in mice. The goal of this double blind study is to see if the same will happen to humans.

However, if more qualified volunteers don’t come forward, we may never know if Verapamil is the link to eradicating the nation’s 7th leading cause of death.

“We really need volunteers,” said Fernando Ovalle, M.D., the Director of UAB’s Comprehensive Diabetes Clinic and the Co-Principal Investigator of the study. “We really need to know whether what has been found in the laboratory actually applies to humans.”

UAB researchers were able to prove that the drug Verapamil will stop beta cells from dying. These are the critical cells that control blood sugar levels. But in patients with Type 1 diabetes, the beta cells die off, removing the body’s only source of insulin.

“We have a very good chance of demonstrating we can change the course of this disease, so the potential benefits are significant,” said Ovalle.

That’s why more volunteers are desperately needed. The study, which began in January, will last three years. Right now, Ovalle said, there are twelve people enrolled in the clinical trial; they need fifty-two. Without the necessary qualified participants, Ovalle claims the results will be inconclusive.

“We are looking for 52 subjects with type 1 diabetes that are between the ages of 19 and 45 that have been diagnosed with diabetes within the last three months.”  And that’s the catch, said Ovalle, “finding patients within three months of receiving their diagnosis is tough.”

Joy Myers is currently enrolled in the study after finding out, at the age of 42, she was a type 1 diabetic.

“It was a little shocking,” said Myers. “I ended up in a very critical situation. I was in an induced coma for nine days.” Myers was rushed to the hospital following a bout of the flu and strep throat. She had been feeling fatigued and thirsty.

“I did what I think a lot of people do. I went out and got Gatorade, orange juice and chicken soup and tried to work through it.” In the end, her home remedies only made matters worse. By the time she reached the hospital, her blood sugar level was above 800. A normal range is between 70 and 100. “I really want all the doctors out there to be looking for this because the person at home is not going to diagnose themselves as a type 1 diabetic.”

Myers’ case is not unique. Ovalle said there are many adults out there with type 1 diabetes who don’t know it, and those are the patients this study desperately needs.

“We really need to get them within the first three months because that’s when we stand the biggest chance to show a difference,” Ovalle said.

These potential subjects are people with a family history of diabetes or other auto-immune disorders like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Ovalle said these are all red flags that “make you think oh, maybe I have another auto-immune condition like type 1 diabetes.”

Even those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes could be potential candidates if Ovalle said, “their condition doesn’t improve over time.”

Myers feel blessed to be part of the study. Like the researchers, she doesn’t know if she has the placebo or the drug that could ultimately change her life. She also realizes this initial study may not rid her body of the disease that forces her to wear an insulin pump and prick her finger six to seven times a day.

“It’s going to add to the data.  It’s going to add to the knowledge and that’s important to me,” Myers said. In the meantime she waits—hoping more volunteers will come forward and provide the data that Myers believes could one day lead to a cure.

Copyright 2015 WIAT 42 News

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