Miami, FL (January 12, 2009) — Diabetes Research Institute Foundation board member and Olympic champion Gary Hall, Jr. will serve as the spokesman for a new international initiative that will explore the potential benefits of physical exercise on autoimmune disease conditions. Hall, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1999, is a living example of how intense physical exercise can exert a positive effect in an autoimmune disease, allowing him to maintain insulin requirements of less than one-third the otherwise expected dose for a man his weight.
The study is a collaborative effort between the Diabetes Research Institute, a center of excellence at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and the Università degli Studi di Milano, Faculty of Exercise Sciences (Facoltà di Scienze Motorie) in Milan, Italy.
The hypothesis developed by Livio Luzi, M.D., dean of the School of Exercise Sciences in Milan, and Camillo Ricordi, M.D., scientific director of the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami, is that physical exercise may have a role beyond improving insulin sensitivity, already well known in the treatment and prevention of type 2 diabetes.
The new theory, based on preliminary observations in patients in Milan and Miami, is that physical exercise also exerts a potent immunomodulatory effect, reducing the autoimmune response that in type 1 diabetes attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells. Positive results will have implications for many other autoimmune diseases beyond diabetes, such as psoriasis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
“Preliminary observations indicate that subjects with type 1 diabetes who follow a regular schedule of physical exercise and/or training have prolonged ‘honeymoon’ periods that can last over a decade and reduce or significantly lower insulin requirements,” explained Dr. Ricordi.
“It has been known for decades that regular aerobic physical exercise improves insulin sensitivity in type 1 diabetic patients, reducing insulin requirements,” said Dr. Luzi. “In our hypothesis, the immunomodulatory effect of exercise might have an additive or, possibly, a synergistic effect on the prolongation of the ‘honeymoon period.’”
Prolongation of the “honeymoon period,” the period of time in the course of diabetes onset that is characterized by reduced need for exogenous insulin, has been seen to last as long as 10-15 years in some athletes, suggesting that exercise may play a critical role in the process. These intriguing observations are now at the heart of a scientific initiative — including leading scientists from France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland — that could, if successful, impact the lives of millions of patients worldwide.