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Can You Reverse Type 1 Diabetes? Not Yet, But A New Drug May Help

When we talk about diabetes, we usually refer to the more common type 2 version of the disease. Type 2 diabetes is caused by poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle leading to insulin resistance and the body’s inability to regulate blood glucose levels on its own. 

When someone has type 2 diabetes, their pancreas can produce insulin, but the body’s cells simply do not respond to the hormone. Type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, is very different. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks the pancreas’s insulin-producing cells, leaving the organ unable to produce the insulin the body needs to regulate blood sugar. 

One condition is a lifestyle-induced insulin resistance problem, while the other is a genetic autoimmune pancreas problem. 

While some cases of type 2 diabetes can be managed and even reversed with proper nutrition and lifestyle changes, there is no known cure for Type 1 diabetes. Luckily, type 1 diabetes is much less common than type 2. Only about 5-10% of people with diabetes have type 1. 

Even though that percentage may seem low, that is still 1.3 million Americans suffering from a condition requiring that they closely monitor their blood sugar and inject insulin after every meal. It is a heavy burden to bear and one that can often lead to other long-term health complications if it is not managed appropriately.

A new drug may delay the onset of type 1 diabetes

This is why there is so much excitement around a new drug just approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Marketed as Tzield, the drug will neither cure nor prevent the onset of type 1 diabetes. So what does it do? Tzield is the first treatment that can postpone the onset of type 1 diabetes for an average of two years and, in some lucky cases, for much longer. 

While this might not seem like a big deal, it is for anyone burdened by having to measure their blood sugar and inject themselves with insulin at least four times a day. 

The treatment involves a 14-day infusion of the drug, a monoclonal antibody that blocks T immune cells, preventing them from attacking the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. What is the cost of this new diabetes-delaying drug? Oh, just $13,850 a vial or $193,900 for the 14-day treatment. Woah. 

The key takeaway? When it comes to diabetes, we often think that as long as you don’t overdo it with sweets and exercise regularly, you have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, for many adolescents that discover they have type 1 diabetes in their early teens, that is just not the case. Some diseases seem to be just the luck of the draw. Fortunately, there is a solution on the horizon, albeit one that does not cure or prevent the condition. For those who have type 1 diabetes, a two-year delay in symptoms is still a big step in the right direction. 

Hopefully, we can continue to advance the technology to make that 2-year delay even longer and lower the price point so that the treatment can actually be something most families can realistically afford. 

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