UF and international researchers discovered a new use for a high blood pressure drug — to prevent or slow down Type I diabetes.

David Ostrov, a UF pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine associate professor, said researchers used UF’s supercomputer, the HiPerGator, as part of the study published Feb. 13. They discovered a commonly used high blood pressure drug called Aldomet, also known by the generic name methyldopa, can help those with Type I diabetes.

Ostrov said nearly 60 percent of people who contract Type I diabetes have a gene known as HLA-DQ8. The gene produces a molecule that essentially causes the immune system to attack itself.

The researchers found that Aldomet binds to the HLA molecule to block it from attacking the immune system, Ostrov said. The drug is generally considered safe because it has been used on pregnant women and those with high blood pressure for about 50 years.

To find a way to slow Type I diabetes, researchers used the supercomputer to test a variety of drugs and similar compounds in order to find the right one, Ostrov said. The experiment was completed over the course of 10 years using the supercomputer in combination with lab testing live animals.

“This has been a long career goal,” Ostrov said. “I feel like our dream is partially realized.”

UF’s supercomputer is the third-fastest U.S. university supercomputer, according to Alligator archives.

The drug is now being tested in human clinical trials in order to be FDA approved, Ostrov said.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation funded about $120,000 for the research that was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Ostrov said the next step is using similar research methods to find treatments for other autoimmune diseases that have HLA molecules associated with them, such as celiac disease, lupus and multiple sclerosis.

“This paves the way to using the exact same strategy for a variety of autoimmune diseases and cancer,” Ostrov said.

Dr. Aaron Michels, director of Clinical Immunology at the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes, said he was another researcher on the study. They tested the top 150 to 160 compounds the HiPerGator suggested would bind to the molecule in the lab and eventually moved to live animals.

“The computer really, really helped us take an insurmountable amount of information and scale it down to something that we could test on the lab bench,” Michels said.