The discovery, by researchers from the University of Virginia Health System, appears in the April 30 online issue of Pancreas.
The study found two weeks of treatment with the drug lisofylline reduced the incidence of type 1 diabetes in mice to 25 percent, compared to 92 percent in mice who didn't receive the drug. LSF also helped restore insulin production.
The research was conducted on mice that had diabetes induced in them through low doses of a particular drug.
More than 700,000 Americans have type 1 diabetes. It occurs when the immune system attacks beta cells in the pancreas. That leaves the body unable to produce insulin, which is needed to process sugar, the basic fuel for cells.
People with type 1 diabetes have increased risk of heart disease, stroke and eye and kidney diseases. It's believed the causes of type 1 diabetes include genetic, autoimmune and environmental factors.
"Our hope is that, one day, a clinician can use lisofylline to slow down or prevent this disease in people at high risk for type 1 diabetes. We think this drug may have the ability to protect these insulin-producing cells from death or damage," researcher Dr. Zandong Yang says in a news release.
The drug protects the insulin-producing cells by inhibiting the production and action of pro-inflammatory cytokines. These proteins, produced by immune cells, can cause cell death and dysfunction.
Here's where you can learn more about diabetes.