In the U.S. alone, about 200,000 people under 20 are diagnosed with diabetes.
In hopes of finding a cure, Sanford Health is partnering with a biopharmaceutical company for a clinical trial involving only children.
According to the CDC, type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in young people.
"We treat it with insulin but that doesn't do anything about the underlying process. So what we're trying to do is rebalance the immune system a little bit and stop that attack on the tissues that it's supposed to be leaving alone, “Sanford Health Dr. Kurt Griffin said.
A new clinical trial, referred to as The Sanford Project: T-Rex Study, is specifically looking at patients ages 8 to 17, recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
"This is a time where they're still making plenty of insulin and we're really trying to jump on that before the immune system gets any further down that path," Griffin said.
The study will focus on whether a child's own cells can fight the disease.
"Kids to the blood bank. Take a good volume of blood out so we get enough of these regulatory t-cells. These are the cells that put the brakes on the immune system. Kids with type 1 diabetes don't have as many as the rest of us, and the ones they have don't work well," Griffin said.
The cells are then sent to labs to be grown.
"They're purified. Expanded over two weeks to where we have billions of them now. Then we give them back to the same kid they came from," Griffin said.
With no known cause for diabetes, researchers hope this clinical trial will give them answers.
"We're not sure if it's going to work. We have some good ideas as to what we think may work. But this is how we figure it out. If you look at any other drug that's been approved for any indication, it's been through a process like this," Griffin said.
The trial will follow 110 children, and be studied at 15 different sites across the U.S., including in Sioux Falls.
"Insulin keeps them alive. It's a way that we can control the blood sugar but it is neither easy nor acceptable to just continue trying to manage them this way," Griffin said.
Patients will be followed for two years after the first treatment and will be seen every three to six months.
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