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U of M trial looks to treat hypoglycemia unawareness in Type 1 diabetes

Over the past week Health Talk has discussed several studies at the University of Minnesota to tackle Type 1 diabetes. Today we’ll meet Betsy Seaquist, M.D., professor, Department of Medicine, and learn about her clinical trial to treat hypoglycemia unawareness in Type 1 diabetes patients.

Hypoglycemia unawareness is a pretty scary and potentially dangerous disorder where patients with Type 1 diabetes lose the ability to detect if their blood sugar (glucose) is low and they can lose consciousness.

Dr. Seaquist has seen many instances where her patients have fallen off of ladders, driven into medians on the freeway and severely hurt themselves doing everyday chores and activities. Much more common are events where her patients have relied on friends and families to recognize when they get a low sugar and to help them get the glucose they need to treat the hypoglycemia.

People with Type 1 diabetes work extremely hard to control their blood sugar. It’s a daily battle to maintain a good blood sugar levels to reduce the risk of kidney disease, blindness and nerve problems. There is a tradeoff however, and that is hypoglycemia.Seaquist

When blood sugar gets too low, patients begin to develop hypoglycemia. Their symptoms often include feeling shaky, sweaty and a feeling similar to a panic attack.

“We’re trying to come up with a better way to help people deal with hypoglycemia unawareness because at the least it can be a major inconvenience and at the most can literally kill people,” said Seaquist.

In patients with hypoglycemia unawareness, the brain no longer perceives hypoglycemia as a threat. Trying to remain functional as blood sugar drops only works for so long, and that’s when people can become unconscious.

Seaquist’s trial is looking to find a different solution to the problem. So far, she has been working with a drug (naltrexone) that blocks a specific neurotransmitter response and essentially helps the brain remain sensitive to low sugars. This should make sure that people will know that their sugar is dropping long before they become unconscious.

Seaquist’s work is done in the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) in collaboration with Silvia Mangia, Ph.D. Lynn Eberly, Ph.D., from the Biostatistics Division of the School of Public Health also works on this project.

“I hear about my patients struggling with hypoglycemia unawareness every day in clinic,” said Seaquist. “It’s a major problem and I just want to make it easier for them.”

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