People recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes who take low weekly doses of semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic, may be able to reduce their reliance on insulin to regulate their blood sugar, a small study suggests.
The study included 10 patients with type 1 diabetes, a condition that typically develops in childhood or adolescence when the pancreas can’t make enough of the hormone insulin to help the body use sugars in the diet for energy. To avoid the resulting high blood sugar, people with type 1 diabetes are usually treated with two types of insulin: fast-acting prandial insulin at mealtimes and slow-acting basal insulin during other periods of the day.
All of the participants had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes within the past six months. At the time participants got their diagnosis, they had poorly controlled blood sugar, based on blood tests that show the amount of hemoglobin, a molecule on red blood cells that is coated with sugar. Their average so-called hemoglobin A1C levels were 11.7; the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends target levels below 7.
Researchers started giving each patient weekly injections of semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic, with initial doses of 0.125 milligrams (mg) that were gradually increased to as high as 0.5 mg. At the same time, patients gradually reduced their mealtime insulin doses.
Within three months of starting semaglutide, all 10 people were able to stop using mealtime insulin, according to study results published in The New England Journal of Medicine. After six months, 7 of the 10 patients no longer needed slow-acting basal insulin, either. These results persisted throughout the entire 12-month study period.
“We were definitely surprised by our findings and also quite excited,” lead study author Paresh Dandona, MD, PhD, senior study author and professor at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo in New York, said in a statement.
“If these findings are borne out in larger studies over extended follow-up periods, it could possibly be the most dramatic change in treating type 1 diabetes since the discovery of insulin in 1921,” Dr. Dandona added.
Even as patients reduced their reliance on insulin, their blood sugar levels improved, the study also found. Participants had average A1C levels of 5.6 after six months, and 5.7 after 12 months of follow-up.