The diet supplement that could halt diabetes
HUMAN trials of a revolutionary fibre supplement that could help control Type 1 diabetes will begin in August and it could be on the market in 18 months.
The supplement, developed by Monash University researchers, has stopped Type 1 diabetes in mice and it's hoped it will work in a similar way in humans in the early stages of the disease.
It could also play a role in Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, asthma, allergies and other inflammatory conditions, according to researcher Dr Eliana Marino.
The powder supplement - which is sprinkled on participants' food twice daily - is a modified corn starch high in amylose that resists digestion.
When it comes into contact with gut bacteria it produces short chain fatty acids that play a key role in keeping the immune system healthy.
More than 120,000 Australians, many of them children, suffer from Type 1 diabetes a condition in which the immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin.
Sufferers require regular insulin injections, must test their insulin levels regularly and are at risk of dying in their sleep, blindness, kidney disease and limb amputations.
In research published in 2017, Dr Marino showed a diet that promoted the production of the short chain fatty acids Acetate and Butyrate stopped the progression of Type 1 diabetes in mice.
"Ninety per cent of the mice were protected from diabetes," she said.
"They didn't need insulin," she said.
In humans, Dr Marino hopes the supplement might prevent diabetes progressing if it is given to people in the very early stages of the disease.
For those with more advanced disease she hopes it will allow them to manage insulin levels better and prevent complications like blindness, and limb amputations.
"We are aiming to halt the immune system attacking the cells in the pancreas that kill insulin," she says.
Instead of using medicine to do this the researchers are using diet to reprogram the immune system.
The six week human trial to begin in August will see participants given 20g of the fibre powder to sprinkle on their food in the morning and at night.
Doctors will have to prescribe the supplement and patients using it will need close monitoring by doctors and dietitians, but if it is found to be safe it could be sold over the counter without a prescription.
It won't be necessary to continually take the supplement, the idea is that it will reprogram the body's immune system within a matter of weeks, Dr Marino said.
Dr Marino says she tried the supplement herself and found it palatable.
The researcher is already in discussions with companies that produce vitamins with an eye to bringing the supplement to market.
The diet approach was developed in conjunction with Monash University's Professor Charles Mackay and the CSIRO.
It has been refined and transformed by medicinal chemistry into a powdered supplement by researchers at Monash University.
The supplement is now also being tested in mice with lifestyle related Type 2 diabetes, that research will be published early next year, Dr Marino says.