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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — An insulin capsule that may prevent or delay juvenile diabetes is being evaluated by researchers at the University of Tennessee-Memphis.

The nationwide study was announced Tuesday by the National Institutes of Health.

UT’s Dr. George Burghen said oral insulin will be given daily to persons who have a 25 percent to 50 percent chance of developing Type-1 diabetes within five years.

Type-1 diabetics do not produce enough insulin and, as a result, sugar builds to dangerous levels in their blood — causing damage to eyes, kidneys, nerves and the heart. Without insulin injections, Type-1 diabetics face increased risk of death.

“The good news is there is a new drug that is being used…to prevent diabetes involving children and young adults,” Burghen said.

Participants will be given either capsules of insulin crystals or a dummy pill to see if oral insulin is protective.

“What we think is happening there is the insulin is actually digested like other proteins in the intestinal tract,” Burghen said.

In addition, he said, the immune system in the intestinal tract processes the insulin in such a way that it prevents insulin-producing cells from being destroyed, he said.

“We think we can interfere with the development of the disease if it’s caught early in this way,” Burghen said.

An estimated 13,000 new cases of Type-1 diabetes are diagnosed each year in children and teenagers. Nationwide, 800,000 Type-1 diabetics are at risk of early death.

Volunteers for the study must have a relative with Type-1 diabetes and be age 3-45. People interested in learning if they are eligible can call 1-800-425-8361.

An estimated 1,200 persons will be screened by UT-Memphis.

Contact: Dr. George Burghen (901-572-3302)