Diabetes prevention focus of clinical trials

Erin Allday
Published 6:36 pm, Tuesday, October 29, 2013, in SFGate

Jonathan Marks doesn't have diabetes. Not yet.

But three of his eight family members - his father, a younger brother and sister - have Type 1 diabetes, and that puts Jonathan at a greater risk than most people of developing it himself someday.

It's not something the 13-year-old worries about. In a way, he's lived his whole life with diabetes, and if he does get it, "that'll be something I can share with my dad," he said with a shrug.

Jonathan explained his lack of concern from a reclining chair at UCSF, where he had just finished an intravenous infusion of either a placebo or, he hopes, an immune-suppressing drug that may keep diabetes at bay. He's part of a double-blind clinical trial, one of several taking place worldwide to find a way to prevent Type 1 diabetes.

"For our family, diabetes is like braces or glasses. It's just something all the kids have grown up with," said Jonathan's mother, Heather Marks, who travels from the small town of Brookings, Ore., with her son once a month to participate in the UCSF trial.

"But what if you could prevent it or delay it?" she said. "He has a 25 to 50 percent chance of getting diabetes. We want to know as much as we can."

Almost 24 million people in the United States have diabetes, but the vast majority - more than 90 percent - are Type 2. Those cases typically develop in adulthood and are often associated with being overweight or obese. In Type 2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin, the hormone that is critical for converting sugar into energy. Type 2 diabetes often can be kept under control with lifestyle changes, such as improving diet and exercising more often.

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