Type 1 diabetes currently has no cure, but it seems scientists are a step closer to preventing the condition. A new study shows using antiviral drugs on children newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes could be a significant breakthrough.

Administering antiviral drugs could slow disease progression, preserve insulin production and may potentially prevent type 1 diabetes, says researchers from the University of Oslo (UiO). The study's findings were published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body does not make adequate insulin. Although the exact cause is not known, an autoimmune reaction when body cells mistakenly attack insulin-producing pancreatic cells could be a factor. In some cases, the condition is hereditary, and certain environmental factors such as viruses could also trigger it.

Around 1.45 million people have type 1 diabetes in the U.S. and the condition is growing at a rate of 2.9% per year.

The team earlier observed an association between diabetes and viral infection. In the latest study, they tried to address it using a combination therapy of antiviral drugs pleconaril and ribavirin.

"We know through our previous research that a chronic enterovirus infection is present in the pancreas of those newly diagnosed patients we've studied," said study co-author Dr. Knut Dahl-Jørgensen, a senior professor at UiO. "We wanted to see if the virus was a trigger for developing type 1 diabetes and if we could slow the progression of the disease by addressing the virus. We've shown that antiviral medication can be effective for preserving insulin production, meaning it may be possible to treat and slow down type 1 diabetes with medication and maybe eventually prevent the disease."

Researchers conducted two clinical trials with a total of 96 participants at Oslo University Hospital, Norway, and Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen/Herlev University Hospital, Copenhagen. All the participants were aged between six and 15 and were newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. They were then randomly assigned to receive either a combination of pleconaril and ribavirin or a placebo. At the end of the trial, endogenous insulin production (the insulin produced by the pancreas) was measured.

"In conclusion, this study shows that among children and adolescents with newly diagnosed T1D, the combination therapy of two antiviral drugs, pleconaril and ribavirin, resulted in higher residual endogenous insulin production than placebo. These results provide a rationale for future studies to evaluate the efficacy of antiviral drugs in the prevention and treatment of T1D," the researchers wrote.

However, the study has certain limitations, as the trials were conducted with a small number of participants. The researchers also said that information regarding continuous glucose monitoring was not available for all participants.

"Further studies should be done at an earlier stage in the disease process to evaluate whether antiviral treatment could delay the progression of beta-cell damage leading to clinical type 1 diabetes. This study supports that low-grade persistent virus infection is an underlying disease mechanism, and that type 1 diabetes may be prevented by the development of new vaccines," Dahl-Jørgensen said.