NATIONAL - Type 1 Diabetes strikes the very young and can have devastating consequences. There's no cure, but there is a revolutionary approach to try and stop the disease.
Kelli Peterson isn't crazy about needles. The 11-year-old is putting on a brave face to help find a new treatment for diabetes.
"It's supposed to, like, help my pancreas keep on making insulin," said Kelli.
She has Type 1 Diabetes, an immune system disorder where white blood cells, called T Cells, attack the insulin-producing pancreas.
Dr. Mark Pescovitz said, "What we're hoping to accomplish in these particular diseases, particularly in Type 1 Diabetes, is to shut off the immune attack on the pancreas."
For the first time, Indiana University researchers are turning to a cancer drug called Rituximab to see if it can do the job.
Dr. Pescovitz said "it is originally developed as a drug to kill lymphomas which is a type of B Cell cancer."
The drug may also work on Type 1 Diabetes because B Cells feed the T Cells that attack the pancreas.
Dr. Pescovitz says "if the B Cells aren't serving the T Cells the food, they starve, they die and the immune reaction shuts off."
If the treatment works, it could help young patients like Kelli avoid long-term complications like vision loss, kidney damage and amputation.
"What we're hoping," says Dr. Pescovitz, "is that we will get rid of the B Cells that are causing the damage, new B Cells will be developing that are not specifically targeting the pancreas and therefore induce what we call a state of tolerance."
It's possible patients could produce their own insulin and depend much less on insulin injections. There's a slight chance it could even reverse the disease.
"Boy, that would be a blessing, if that were the case," says Sharon Peterson.
To Kelli, it's a shot worth 'sticking' around for.
Researchers are testing the cancer drug on recently diagnosed Type 1 Diabetes patients who are at least eight years old.