Where to Find Diabetes Clinical Trials
If you have been diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, your doctor has probably prescribed you a whole regiment of medications and lifestyle changes. However, diabetes is one of the most common diseases in the United States and other countries around the world. As such, there are scientists all over the world working on new treatments, medications, and potential cures for diabetes.
These new cures must go through safety and efficacy testing, which happens in 3 phases of clinical trials. You can help doctors and researchers test potential treatments and medications for diabetes by joining a clinical trial! But first, you have to know where to find clinical trials and how to enroll.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about diabetes, current treatments for diabetes, and how to find clinical research studies. Plus, we’ll cover exactly what it means to join a clinical trial and how to begin your enrollment into a medical research program.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease associated with the body’s ability to utilize glucose (sugar) within the bloodstream. People with diabetes have an inability to control glucose levels within the bloodstream. When glucose levels remain too high for long periods of time, damage to the kidneys, eyes, and other vital organs can occur. Untreated diabetes can lead to serious medical complications and is a serious concern for public health.
There are two different forms of diabetes that are common. Type 1 diabetes is thought to be an autoimmune disorder where immune cells inappropriately attack the pancreas. Cells in the islet of the pancreas secrete the peptide hormone insulin, which in turn tells cells to uptake glucose from the bloodstream. When these cells are damaged by Type 1 diabetes, no insulin can be released and glucose levels remain very high.
By contrast, Type 2 diabetes is considered “insulin resistance.” In other words, Type 2 diabetes occurs when the cells of your body develop an inability to respond to the insulin present. This type of diabetes seems to be caused mostly by diet and lifestyle choices, though there may be some genetic components. Certain biomarkers like blood pressure, weight, hypoglycemia, cardiovascular disease, and family members who are diabetic can be risk factors for poor glycemic control and potential diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be prevented if it is treated in the prediabetes phase.
Genetics of Diabetes
The genetics of diabetes is very complex, especially given that there are two completely different forms of diabetes that are common.
With Type 1 diabetes, there are some fairly clear correlations between certain genes and the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. However, there is not a clear enough connection between the genes involved and the prevalence of the disease to consider Type 1 diabetes entirely genetic. The genes involved are related to proteins in the immune system that cause the immune system to target certain cells. In certain environmental conditions, these genes can direct the immune system to attack the islet of the pancreas, leading to Type 1 Diabetes.
As for Type 2 diabetes, the genetic correlations are much less clear. Type 2 diabetes is often found within families and communities, though this is more likely due to shared lifestyle and dietary habits than it is due to shared genetics. In fact, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is on the rise in countries that share the “western diet”, have high rates of obesity, and have low levels of physical activity. That being said, there have been a few genes that have been correlated to an increased risk of diabetes within certain ethnic groups and families above and beyond the risks created by the “western lifestyle.”
Are there Treatments for Diabetes?
While there are no cures for type 1 or type 2 diabetes, there are certain medicines and interventions that can help patients manage their symptoms and keep their blood sugar levels in check. Most diabetes patients need to learn how to use a blood glucose monitor device to keep track of their blood sugar levels. All of the treatments below should be prescribed by a healthcare provider, especially for high-risk patients with poor metabolic control over their blood glucose level or with a reduced quality of life.
Patients with type 1 diabetes need to regularly administer insulin since the damage in their pancreas organs precludes them from producing the necessary amount. In certain cases, doctors may recommend the transplantation of an insulin pump that automatically delivers insulin to the bloodstream.
Patients with new-onset type 2 diabetes mellitus can sometimes manage the condition with lifestyle changes, including severe changes to the diet, increased exercise, and weight loss. However, once the condition progresses to a certain level even these patients may need to administer insulin or take other diabetes medications (such as metformin) to regulate their blood glucose levels.
What Are Clinical Trials?
Clinical trials represent the final stage in the development of a new drug, treatment, or intervention. Before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will approve a drug or treatment, it must go through 3 phases of clinical trials. The first phase includes the smallest number of volunteer research subjects and typically just ensures the basic safety of the procedure or medication. Phase two clinical trials typically include dozens to hundreds of participants as researchers look for both side effects and outcomes of the treatment. Phase three trials include thousands of participants to find the rarest side effects and best estimates of the effectiveness of a new drug or treatment.
Clinical trials typically begin with a recruitment period, where trial participants enroll and the timeline of treatments is established. If you are interested in joining a clinical trial, you typically must sign up during this enrollment period. Then, a randomized system sorts patients into experimental and control groups, so researchers can accurately measure changes to beta-cell function, conduct glucose monitoring over time, and measure other interventional outcomes based on their method of diabetes care.
Why Do People Join Clinical Studies?
One major misconception about clinical trials is that enrolling in a clinical trial is simply a way to get early access to the “newest” and “best” medications and treatments available. The whole point of a clinical trial is to test the safety and effectiveness of medication or treatment. In fact, because scientists need to compare the outcomes of the experimental group with a baseline, at least half the people in every clinical trial will not be on the experimental medication or treatment. These patients will either receive a placebo (a faux medication with no effect) or a standardized treatment like insulin and dietary changes.
So, you should not join a clinical trial just because you think you may get access to a more effective diabetes medication. Most people join clinical trials to help doctors and researchers find more effective treatments and medications for all people with diabetes. Some studies do provide some forms of compensation, but this is usually just enough to cover your travel expenses to and from the research facility.
Where to Find Clinical Trials for a Diabetic
Since diabetes is such a prevalent disease in many parts of the globe, there is ample opportunity to join a clinical research study. The websites below represent some of the best places to find research opportunities in your area. To increase your chances of being accepted for a clinical trial, be prepared to give details of your medical history. Clinicians will want to know whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and other aspects to determine how severe your disease is. Here is a list of websites where you can start your search for clinical trials that are typically offered as multicenter studies at many locations concurrently:
- American Diabetes Association - Clinical Trials
- National Institute of Diabetes - Clinical Trials for Diabetes
- Mayo Clinic - Diabetes Clinical Trials
- Center Watch - Diabetes mellitus Clinical Trials
- TrialNet - Type 1 Diabetes Clinical Trials
However, you should also check with your doctor for any trials that are being conducted in your local area. Your doctor may know the primary researcher or have other connections to the trial that can help you get connected. For instance, the research institutions below are found on the East and West Coasts and they are offering several clinical trials each. Other specialized Diabetes research centers can be found across the U.S. and in several countries around the world.
- University of California San Francisco - Diabetes Clinical Trials
- University of Massachusetts Medical School - Diabetes Center of Excellence
National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. National Library of Medicine - Diabetes
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - What is Diabetes?
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases - What is Diabetes?
Journal of the American Society of Nephrology - Genetics of Diabetes and Its Complications
Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics - Review article: diabetes, genetics, and ethnicity
New England Journal of Medicine - The Genetics of Type 1A Diabetes