Type 1 diabetes treatment revisited

Posted: 10th June 2021

January 2022 marks a century since insulin was first used to treat Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old dying of type 1 diabetes.

The then experimental treatment saved Leonard’s life.

Leonard needed insulin because his body’s immune system had targeted and destroyed the insulin producing cells in his pancreas, meaning his blood sugar levels were not able to be controlled.

“To stay alive, people with type 1 diabetes are dependent on insulin replacement – given by multiple daily injections or an insulin pump – along with frequent blood glucose measurements,” explains Professor Tom Kay, SVI Director and internationally leading diabetes researcher.

But while life-saving, insulin treatment has limitations.

“The long-term complications of type 1 diabetes include heart attack, stroke, vision impairment, kidney disease and nerve damage – it is a significant condition,” says Tom.

“Our century-old approach to managing this disease does not address its underlying cause: the processes which lead the body’s immune cells to destroy insulin-producing beta cells.”

A clinical trial being led by SVI aims to change that.

Dubbed “BANDIT” (baricitinib in new onset type 1 diabetes), the trial is investigating whether baricitinib – a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis – can protect insulin producing beta cells from immune attack.

“Our aim is to retain those beta cells still present when type 1 diabetes is first diagnosed, and prolong the body’s own production of insulin,” says Professor Helen Thomas, BANDIT coinvestigator and Head of SVI’s Immunology & Diabetes Lab.

“If this trial proves successful, people with type 1 diabetes could be significantly less dependent on insulin treatment. That would herald a massive change in type 1 diabetes care.”

Some of the nation’s top type 1 diabetes clinical researchers – from The Royal Melbourne Hospital, The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and The Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Adelaide – are collaborating on the BANDIT trial.

Anders, who was the second participant to be enrolled in the BANDIT trial, says:

“You just never know when a trial like BANDIT is going to lead to a huge breakthrough in science, so I would encourage everyone to take part in a clinical trial if they are given the chance.”

“We’re optimistic that with the support of our generous trial participants and the expertise of these outstanding clinicians, we will see positive results,” says Helen. “We are very hopeful of being able to change the lives of people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in future.”

“That would be a dream come true for us, and for those patients.”

The BANDIT trial is supported by JDRF Australia and JDRF International.

People aged 10 – 30 years who have recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes may be eligible to take part in the BANDIT trial.

For more information, or to apply to participate in the trial, visit