Background: It is unknown whether insulin therapy can delay or prevent diabetes in nondiabetic relatives of patients with diabetes.
Methods: In a randomized, controlled, nonblinded clinical trial, we screened 84,228 first-degree and second-degree relatives of patients with diabetes for islet-cell antibodies; 3152 tested positive; 2103 of the 3152 underwent genetic, immunologic, and metabolic staging to quantify their risk; 372 of the 2103 had a projected five-year risk of more than 50 percent; 339 of the 372 (median age, 11.2 years) were randomly assigned to undergo either close observation or an intervention that consisted of low-dose subcutaneous ultralente insulin, administered twice daily for a total dose of 0.25 unit per kilogram of body weight per day, plus annual four-day continuous intravenous infusions of insulin. Oral glucose-tolerance tests were performed every six months. Median follow-up was 3.7 years. The primary end point was a diagnosis of diabetes.
Results: Diabetes was diagnosed in 69 subjects in the intervention group and 70 subjects in the observation group. The annualized rate of progression to diabetes was 15.1 percent in the intervention group and 14.6 percent in the observation group. The cumulative incidence of diabetes was similar in the two groups (relative risk in the intervention group as compared with the observation group, 0.96). Most subjects in whom diabetes developed were asymptomatic. Progression to diabetes occurred at a faster rate among subjects with abnormal base-line glucose tolerance (22 percent per year) than among those with normal base-line glucose tolerance (10 percent per year, P<0.001). There were no episodes of severe hypoglycemia. The incidence of chemical hypoglycemia, assessed without ascertainment bias, was similar in the two groups.
Conclusions: In persons at high risk for diabetes, insulin at the dosage used in this study does not delay or prevent type 1 diabetes.