Researchers are testing whether a drug, currently used in treating gallbladder and liver diseases, could help to prevent the damage of insulin producing beta cells that occurs in type 1 diabetes.

The drug, tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), is a form of bile acid and has been chosen as previous research suggests it could combat what’s known as endoplasmic reticulum stress (ER stress). This is of interest in type 1 diabetes as ER stress has been shown to play a role in the destruction of beta cells in type 1 diabetes.

The research is being led by Dr. Robin Goland of the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and is being supported by the JDRF.

To date the researchers have shown that TUDCA, when treated in the early stages of type 1 diabetes, appears to help reduce type 1 diabetes from occurring by bolstering the ability of beta cells to withstand ER stress.

Human trials of TUDCA

The next line of research will be to test whether the treatment is safe and effective enough in humans. The safety of the drug is known to some extent because it has been used, in Europe, for treating liver disease in adults and children.

Within the human trials, the researchers will measure the insulin production of trial participants. In addition, the research team will take skin biopsies of the participants. The skin biopsies may allow the researchers to generate cells that resemble beta cells and test these cells under lab conditions to investigate whether certain factors may improve treatment outcomes in certain individuals.