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Kerby Bennett is taking part in a Vanderbilt study of a therapy to prevent or delay type 1 diabetes in people at high risk for developing the disease. (photo by Joe Howell)

Clinical trial seeks to halt type 1 diabetes in its tracks


8/11/2011 - When Kerby Bennett’s identical twin sister, Taylor, was diagnosed two years ago with type 1 diabetes, she wanted to fix her sister, to make things better.

At the time, Kerby could only offer emotional support to her twin, whose life had taken a sudden detour just before their 18th birthday. Kerby, who has an intense passion for learning, immersed herself in diabetes education to learn more about the autoimmune disease.

And thanks to a recently launched study, Kerby, 20, can now actively participate in the search for a way to prevent the disease in others. The study will look at an immune system regulating drug, Teplizumab, to see if it can prevent or delay type 1 diabetes in individuals at high-risk for developing the disease.

The Vanderbilt Diabetes Center is one of only five centers in North America participating in this infusion therapy trial as part of the Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet.

“For the past couple years, I’ve been thinking, ‘what is the solution? What can I do to improve Taylor’s life with diabetes and other people’s lives? What’s out there, what are the options,’” Kerby said. “This has made me feel like I am doing something really worthwhile. I feel like it’s promising.”

Kerby traveled recently from Los Angeles to Vanderbilt, where she spent 14 days receiving the infusion therapy. Researchers will follow and test her for the disease for up to four years. She was the first at-risk person to receive the drug as part of the prevention study.

Kerby Bennett has her vital signs checked by Samantha Saalwaechter, R.N., while taking part in Vanderbilt’s trial of a therapy to prevent type 1 diabetes. (photo by Joe Howell)

Kerby Bennett has her vital signs checked by Samantha Saalwaechter, R.N., while taking part in Vanderbilt’s trial of a therapy to prevent type 1 diabetes. (photo by Joe Howell)

To be eligible for this study, Kerby was screened through the TrialNet Natural History Study, which tests people at risk for type 1 diabetes for the four antibodies associated with the disease. Twins of those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes have a 60 percent risk of developing the disease.

Kerby had two of the antibodies, and she had an abnormal result on an oral glucose tolerance test. She learned that her risk was much higher – an 86 percent chance she could develop diabetes in the next five years.

“I didn’t realize that the process had already begun in my body,” she said. “I am learning more about what an autoimmune disease is and what the body is doing. It opened my eyes.”

This study will examine if the drug has the ability to stop ongoing destruction of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas before diabetes occurs.

“Teplizumab has been shown to preserve the remaining insulin producing beta cells in people already diagnosed with diabetes, now we want to ask whether it will prevent it in those at high risk for progressing to diabetes,” said William Russell, M.D., professor of Pediatrics and principal investigator of the Type I Diabetes TrialNet Clinical Center at Vanderbilt.

“We are very excited to be pioneering the use of this therapy in people like Kerby, who don’t yet have diabetes, but are at very high risk for development. The goal of TrialNet is to prevent Type 1 Diabetes.”

For more information on participating TrialNet’s type 1 diabetes research, go to www.vanderbiltdiabetesresearch.com or call (615) 936-TNET or (888) VU4-TNET.

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