Diabetes is a disease which affects production or usage of insulin, a hormone which helps the body regulate levels of glucose (a form of sugar) in the blood. According to the American Diabetes Association, roughly 17 million Americans have diabetes and 2200 more are diagnosed every day.
There are two main types. Type 1, is an autoimmune disease. For an unknown reason, the body attacks its own insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, so the body doesn't make any insulin. Patients need daily injections of insulin to stay alive. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of all diabetes cases and is typically diagnosed in children and young adults.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic condition in which the body is either unable to make enough or properly use insulin. It's the most common form of the disease, accounting for 90 to 95 percent of all cases. Type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed in overweight, sedentary adults over 45. Most patients are able to control blood sugar levels with weight loss, proper diet, and exercise. Some Type 2 diabetics need medications to help them use insulin, or insulin shots.
When diabetes isn't controlled, cells are unable to absorb glucose for energy. High levels of glucose circulate in the blood. Over time, that can damage the blood vessels and affect major organs of the body, such as the heart, kidneys, or nerves. Patients with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nerve disease, amputations, dental disease, and pregnancy complications. The American Diabetes Association estimates the cost for treatment for diabetes and lost work time is about $98 billion annually.
Developing Drugs for Type 2 Diabetes
Last year, 23 medications were in development for diabetes. Drug development is a long and costly process. According to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, for every 5000 drugs tested, only five make it to clinical trials, and only one is eventually approved for use. On average, it takes 12 to 15 years to discover and develop a new drug, at a cost of roughly $500 million.
A company named, Entelos®, is trying to make the drug development process more efficient. Researchers have developed high speed computer simulations – a virtual patient – to develop and test potential medications for Type 2 diabetes. First, technicians start by simulating a model of a healthy human. Then, by changing parameters in the program, investigators can simulate various known or hypothesized ways in how diabetes causes disease in the body. Next, with the help of a powerful computer capable of performing half-a-trillion calculations a second, researchers simulate the effects of experimental therapies, and record their effect on the "patient."
With the virtual patient, investigators can perform the equivalent of a six month clinical trial in about three hours. In the long run, the simulation could shave two to three years off the drug development process and save drug companies two to three hundred million dollars. The technology may also help researchers develop drugs that target specific groups of diabetic patients – bringing doctors one step closer to prescribing custom-designed drugs.