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Prevention of type 1 diabetes mellitus

Massimo Pietropaolo, MD
Section Editors
Irl B Hirsch, MD
Joseph I Wolfsdorf, MB, BCh
Deputy Editor
Jean E Mulder, MD


The increase in understanding of the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes mellitus (formerly known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus) has made it possible to consider intervention to slow the autoimmune disease process in an attempt to delay or even prevent the onset of hyperglycemia. This topic will review current and planned efforts to prevent type 1 diabetes. Subjects who are at high risk for type 1 diabetes can be identified using a combination of immune, genetic, and metabolic markers. (See "Prediction of type 1 diabetes mellitus".)

In the current classification of diabetes, immune-mediated type 1 diabetes is called type 1A to distinguish it from less common cases in which an autoimmune etiology cannot be determined (type 1B); the latter are said to be idiopathic [1]. The term type 1 diabetes used here refers to type 1A, or autoimmune diabetes. (See "Classification of diabetes mellitus and genetic diabetic syndromes".)


Several immunosuppressive and immunomodulatory agents and other drugs have been given either alone or in combination to decrease the immune-mediated destruction of beta cells that occurs in type 1 diabetes [2]. Most of the studies have been performed in recent-onset diabetes, where the majority of beta-cell function has already been lost, and the anticipated outcome is preservation of remaining beta-cell function, usually measured as area under the curve (AUC) insulin secretion in response to stimulation. Many of the studies involve small numbers of patients and are uncontrolled.


Azathioprine — Azathioprine is an immunosuppressive drug that inhibits or prevents T cell responses to antigens. In one randomized, double-blind study of 46 patients treated with azathioprine and glucocorticoids, insulin could be discontinued in 10 of 20 treated patients as compared with 2 of 20 patients in the placebo group [3]. Endogenous insulin secretion (measured as the plasma C-peptide response to a liquid meal) also improved. However, only three treated patients remained in remission at one year. Equally discouraging results were noted in a second study [4].

Mycophenolate mofetil — Mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) inhibits proliferation of both T- and B-lymphocytes. In a multicenter, randomized trial, 126 patients with type 1 diabetes for less than three months were randomly assigned to MMF, MMF plus daclizumab (an anti-interleukin [IL]-2 receptor monoclonal antibody that selectively binds the IL-2 receptor, inhibiting IL-2-mediated T-lymphocyte proliferation), or placebo [5]. After two years, there was no significant difference in the mean AUC for C-peptide levels during a mixed-meal tolerance test. Thus, neither MMF alone nor in combination with daclizumab slowed progression of beta-cell destruction in recently diagnosed type 1 diabetes.

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Literature review current through: Oct 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 14, 2016.
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