New treatment can delay Type 1 diabetes

Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute patient first in the region to receive Tzield

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You wouldn’t know it, but Kylie Smith is in the early stages of Type 1 diabetes. Thanks to a new treatment at Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute, Kylie, a 15-year-old from Shepherdsville, Kentucky, has the chance to potentially delay getting the disease.

Two years ago, Kylie’s sister developed Type 1 diabetes, which happens when the pancreas produces little to no insulin, a necessity to survive — because insulin regulates blood sugar. Having no known family history of Type 1, Kylie and her other siblings underwent testing to see if they were likely to develop the disease.

Kylie’s bloodwork came back showing she had antibodies that lead to Type 1 diabetes.

“Her body was struggling to control those blood sugars,” said Kupper A. Wintergerst, M.D., director of Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute and chief of pediatric endocrinology with Norton Children’s Endocrinology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “It was only a matter of time before she fully developed diabetes requiring insulin treatment.”

“I don’t think words can describe the emotion, especially having a child that’s already went through this and seeing the struggle,” said Matthew Smith, Kylie’s father.

First in the area to receive new medication

In doing some research, Kylie’s mom, Amanda, came across Tzield. A medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last year, Tzield is meant to delay the onset of Type 1 diabetes in adults and children ages 8 and older who currently have Stage 2 Type 1 diabetes. Stage 2 is when a person already has abnormal blood sugars but not yet to the point of requiring insulin therapy. The medication is administered with 14 days of an infusion through an IV.

“Essentially, Tzield teaches the body to fight back, potentially delaying the disease for two to five years,” Dr. Wintergerst said.

Amanda discussed Tzield with the team at Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute, who determined Kylie was a great candidate. She would be the first patient in Kentucky, Indiana or Ohio to receive the treatment.

In April, almost exactly two years after her sister’s diagnosis, Kylie received 14 consecutive days of infusions. Six months later, she is showing positive signs that the drug is working. Other than doctor appointments, she’s living a normal life.

“Without Tzield, Kylie might already be on insulin,” Dr. Wintergerst said. “Once this was FDA-approved, we knew this could transform the lives of so many patients and families. Kylie is a perfect example.”

 “I’m extremely grateful,” Kylie said. “It’s worth it.”

Hope for a cure

Knowing that Type 1 diabetes could still be in her future, Kylie isn’t taking anything for granted. But she and her family are grateful for the treatment. They hope that with the extra time there might be another medical breakthrough to further delay diabetes, or even a cure.

“To see Kylie be given this opportunity in the hope for a cure, it’s more than we could ever wish for,” Amanda said.

In the meantime, Dr. Wintergerst recommends that family members of anyone with Type 1 diabetes get tested.

“We believe there are many more people like Kylie who can benefit from this medication,” he said.