Health beat: University of Minnesota searches for right mix to treating diabetes

  • Article by: HEALTH BEATDAN BROWNING
  • Updated: November 16, 2013 - 4:43 PM

The University of Minnesota needs 200 participants for a study that will attempt to take the guesswork out of which combination of commonly used drugs should be used to treat diabetes, a disease that is expected to strike roughly one in three Americans by 2030.

Diabetes is a “huge epidemic across this country and the world,’’ said Dr. Betsy Seaquist, a U endocrinologist and incoming president of the American Diabetes Association.

Yet physicians don’t know nearly enough about how to manage it, she said.

The disease is a genetic disorder that occurs when the body’s blood sugar gets too high. It manifests in two forms. Type 1, often called juvenile-onset diabetes, results from the body’s inability to produce insulin, which is needed to regulate blood sugar. Type 2 — which accounts for 9 out of 10 cases — occurs when the immune system gradually destroys the body’s ability to use and produce insulin.

Although it’s a genetic disease, Seaquist said, weight gain and inactivity can accelerate it. Complications stem from sustained, high blood sugar.

“If you remain lean, and exercise, you can push that off,” Seaquist said.

The U is one of 37 centers participating in a seven-year, $134 million study coordinated by George Washington University. Researchers already know about several effective diabetes drugs, but they don’t know which combination is most effective.

Study participants will all get a commonly used drug called metformin; they will also be randomly assigned one of four other medications: Amaryl (glimepiride); Victoza (liraglutide); Januvia (sitagliptin), or a long-acting form of insulin.

“It would be ideal if we can’t cure the disease … if we could minimize the number of medicines used and keep peoples’ blood sugars controlled. And that’s the whole point of the study,” Seaquist said.

“It’s something really practical that every clinician who takes care of people with type 2 diabetes can apply right away in their practice, because we’re doing it every day without any particular knowledge,” she said.

More information

Potential study candidates can call 612-626-0143, or e-mail grade@umn.edu.

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