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Sanford Research Gets Closer To Diabetes Cure

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Type 1 diabetes affects about one million people in the United States. The disease often strikes during childhood when the body destroys production of beta cells in the pancreas. This forces people to depend on insulin.

But that dependence could soon be over. A Sanford Research team has spent years on what’s called “The Sanford Project,” working to find a cure for type 1 diabetes.

"It's just no fun. It's no picnic to have type 1 diabetes. We owe these people something better," Director of The Sanford Project Dr. Alex Rabinovitch said.

That "something better" could be coming sooner than even researchers once thought.

"Five years ago, for example, I would not have thought that it could move as quickly as it's moving now," Dr. Rabinovitch said.

Dr. Alex Rabinovitch is the Director of The Sanford Project. For the past four years, he has spent countless hours trying to find a cure for type 1 diabetes. Now Dr. Rabinovitch and his team are about to reach another milestone.

"We're very pleased, actually, that we've been able to complete the first trial because in looking at the results, we already have not a definitive answer, but some clues that are allowing us to build on our next clinical trial," Dr. Rabinovitch said.

The first clinical trial consisted of 58 patients and a combination of 2 drugs that work together to regenerate the cells that produce insulin. One drug treats type 2 diabetes, and the other is a treatment for heartburn. That combination was determined after successful research in the lab.

"But taken together these two drugs worked in mice quite successfully and cured their diabetes, so the question was, would it work in people?" Dr. Rabinovitch said.

The first trial is in its second and final year. Dr. Rabinovitch and his team will analyze their findings and use those to move on to a second clinical trial.

"We have other institutions from across the United States who want to partner with us for future clinical trials because they've seen this is something that we can get done," Vice President at Sanford Research Dr. David Pearce  said.
This next trial needs twice as many patients and will be expanded across the country, with more than a dozen clinics and hospitals participating, which will hopefully provide more clues that could lead to a cure.

"Cure is a very powerful word and, I mean, research is what we're doing to drive ourselves to a cure. For an individual to be completely off of insulin, I think what will happen is that there will be a different response in different people," Dr. Pearce said.

Meaning the first treatments may only work for a few people. And each person with the disease may need a different treatment. But the end goal remains the same: Find a cure for type 1 diabetes.

"There's so much energy and effort being spent across the world, and especially here in Sioux Falls and our Sanford Project, that I'm encouraged that it's going to move ever so quickly," Dr. Rabinovitch said.

The team at Sanford Research is getting ready to announce details for the second clinical trial, which will begin sometime next year.

The Sanford Project began with a $400 million gift from T. Denny Sanford.

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