The misery of giving tiny babies regular insulin injections is over. Babies born with diabetes can now be treated successfully with tablets instead of injections, a new study suggests.
Scientists have examined data collected over the last decade from patients diagnosed with neonatal diabetes who switched from receiving insulin injections to sulphonylurea tablets.
Researchers from the University of Exeter have collaborated with groups in Norway, Italy, France and Poland to analyze findings from 81 patients from 20 different countries. The results showed they were successfully treated through sulphonylurea tablets and had excellent blood sugar control over the long-term.
Neonatal diabetes is diagnosed before the age of six months and in half of all cases is caused by a mutation in their KCNJ11 gene, which is involved in keeping insulin-producing cells in the pancreas working properly. This results in life-threatening diabetes soon after birth.
In 2006, scientists discovered that around half of people with neonatal diabetes could come off insulin injections and be treated more effectively with sulphonylurea tablets. In these patients, the tablets provide the key to unlocking the closed door of the insulin-producing beta cells.
Prof Andrew Hattersley, who leads the genetic diabetes research team at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Switching from regular insulin injections was life-changing for these people who had been on insulin all their life; many described it as ‘a miracle treatment’.
“Not only does this eradicate the need to inject insulin several times a day, it also means much better blood sugar control.
“This is the first study to establish that this treatment is safe and works excellently for at least 10 years, and all indications are that it will continue to work for decades more. This is great news for the thousands of patients who have made the switch from insulin.”
Dr Pamela Bowman, who led the study, said: “It was incredibly exciting to help people make the switch from insulin to simple tablets – but the question was, would the benefits last?”
“Half of the people with type 2 diabetes treated with sulphonylureas no longer have good blood sugar control after five years. Our study has found that in neonatal diabetes, the tablets are safe and they work long term – with 93% of people in the study remaining on sulphonylureas alone after 10 years, with excellent blood sugar control.”
By The Guardian</strong>