Campus Life

Researchers test oral insulin's effect on type 1 diabetes

Researchers at Penn State are participating in an international clinical study to learn whether oral insulin can prevent or delay type 1 diabetes in some people at risk for the disease. The number of people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is increasing each year, especially in children under age 5.“Our goal is to prevent type 1 diabetes or to delay it as long as possible,” said Jan Ulbrecht, co-director of Penn State Diabetes Center. “If diabetes can be delayed, even for a few years, those at risk may be able to postpone the difficult challenges of trying to control their glucose levels and development of serious complications." Serious complications of type 1 diabetes include heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney damage, and lower-limb amputations.Researchers want to know if one insulin capsule a day can prevent or delay type 1 diabetes in a specific group at risk. An earlier clinical trial suggested that oral insulin might delay type 1 diabetes for about four years in certain people. Some scientists think that introducing insulin via the digestive tract induces tolerance, or a quieting of the immune system. Oral insulin has no known side effects. Researchers are looking for family members of people with type 1 diabetes to participate in the clinical study. They are particularly interested in finding people who have a high level of specific autoantibodies in their blood. These autoantibodies, which signify an increased risk for developing the disease, can be identified up to 10 years before onset. Screening involves a blood test and is free of charge.Penn State is one of more than 150 medical centers in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia participating in Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet, a global network of diabetes researchers dedicated to the study, prevention, and early treatment of type 1 diabetes. It is funded by the National Institutes of Health and supported by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International and the American Diabetes Association.Early in 2008, TrialNet will launch several other studies for people newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Innovative interventions will be tested including antigen-based and immunomodulatory treatments to help enhance survival of remaining healthy (insulin-secreting) beta cells. TrialNet is collaborating with the Immune Tolerance Network, also funded by NIH, on studies aimed at protecting beta cells in recently diagnosed individuals. For more information on type 1 screenings and studies at Penn State, call (800) 393-0782, e-mail:, or visit

Last Updated March 19, 2009