Health & Fitness

New diabetes research takes a page from the past with a drug from the 1950s

Nurse Carole Gaby checks up on Daniel Dyner during treatment. Daniel Dyner receives his weekly treatment as part of a Mount Sinai Medical Center chelation therapy trial, which is testing the treatment of diabetics who have a history of heart disease.
Nurse Carole Gaby checks up on Daniel Dyner during treatment. Daniel Dyner receives his weekly treatment as part of a Mount Sinai Medical Center chelation therapy trial, which is testing the treatment of diabetics who have a history of heart disease.

Prior to Daniel Dyner having open-heart surgery four years ago, he appeared to be in great health.

He had just moved to Key Biscayne from Venezuela, where he spent his time sailing around the world on solo trips to places like Trinidad, the Mediterranean and the coast of Africa. He swam nearly a mile every day and kept a strict diet.

The 69-year-old Dyner was on the first lap of his daily swim in May 2013 when he “suddenly felt funny.”

He immediately went to see Dr. Gervasio Lamas, his cardiologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.

“I remember this so distinctly,” said Dyner, now 73. “The guy said ‘stop’ and he ran over with two doctors. They said I had 24 hours to live.”

Dyner Jose A. Iglesias

The next morning, Dyner underwent open-heart surgery. After that, his sugar levels went “completely crazy.”

Now, Dyner is part of Lamas’ clinical trial at Mount Sinai, where Type 2 diabetics with a history of cardiac arrest might find a solution to their complications. The key? A drug developed in the 1950s.

To treat diabetes in new ways, South Florida physicians and researchers like Lamas and Dr. Camillo Ricordi, director of the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, are looking to the past for answers.

Both are testing alternative techniques in hopes of bringing unconventional diabetes treatments into the mainstream.

In Type 1 diabetes, which affects about 5 percent of those with diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin or makes just trace amounts. The disease normally affects children, teens and young adults.

In Type 2 diabetes, which affects more than 30 million Americans, or about 95 percent of the U.S. diabetic population, the cells don’t respond to the insulin your body produces. Your pancreas then tries to make more insulin, leading to high blood-sugar levels, which can cause heart disease, vision loss and kidney issues.

The prevalence of diabetes among Florida adults has more than doubled over the past 20 years, mirroring national trends, according to the state’s Diabetes Advisory Council. A sedentary lifestyle and bad eating habits have led to a nationwide obesity epidemic among children and adults, triggering Type 2 diabetes. Since cases of late-onset diabetes often arise in aging populations, Florida is at a particular risk — the state has the largest proportion of adults 65 and older in the country (17.3 percent).

Lamas’ chelation therapy trial, although initially scorned by colleagues and researchers as quackery, is in its second phase, called TACT2 (Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy). The cardiologist started looking into chelation therapy after a patient in 1999 asked about the treatment, which has been used since the ’50s to treat lead poisoning.

The intravenous treatment rids the body of heavy metals such as lead, calcium and cadmium (found in smartphone batteries) by flushing the metals out of the cells and into your urine. Patients like Dyner go to a clinic to receive a weekly three-hour infusion of chelation therapy through an IV.

To test whether the treatment would extract metals out of the coronary arteries — high levels of calcium have been linked to heart disease — Lamas secured $31 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health for the initial 10-year chelation study, 2002-2012. According to Lamas, that study reduced recurrent cardiac events by 41 percent and heart attacks by 50 percent. The trial also reduced the number of deaths in diabetic heart-attack survivors.

To learn more, Lamas asked the National Institutes of Health to do a second study, this one focusing specifically on diabetes. This second study, which received $37 million in NIH funding last September, will test about 1,200 patients with histories of heart attack and healthy kidneys. After the study ends in five years, Lamas’ team should know for sure whether the treatment can be used clinically.

“We’ve known for a long time that the metals that the chelation takes out of the body are toxic to blood vessels,” he said. “The hallmark of science is reproducibility.”

Like Lamas’ trial, Ricordi of the Diabetes Research Institute is using drugs that have been proven to work in the past.

His trial, which involves Type 1 patients, will aim to delay or stop the progression of autoimmune diseases like diabetes by rescuing healthy cells through high doses of Omega 3 and Vitamin D. His leg of the international trial, which is slated to start before Christmas, will give both adult and pediatric Type 1 diabetic patients an oral dose of vitamins over the course of two years. (Patients will not receive a placebo.)

“Right now, what terrifies families is when you say there’s nothing they can do but take insulin for the rest of their lives,” he said. “This trial brings new hope to change progression and the course of the disease.”

Ricordi is already using Omega 3 and Vitamin D to treat patients with other autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s disease and psoriasis. However, the treatment helps with more than just autoimmune diseases.

“It can be adopted to promote healthy lifespan,” he said. “My family, my children, my mother, even my colleagues take it.”

For more information

For anyone who would like to get involved with the chelation therapy trial, they can visit