People with diabetes are prone to develop serious kidney problems. Now, British scientists have shown that this can be averted -- at least in rats -- with high-dose thiamine supplements. Rats treated with a drug to make them diabetic normally start passing protein in their urine -- a sign of early kidney damage -- after 24 weeks of inadequate insulin therapy, Dr. Paul J. Thornalley and a team at the University of Essex explain in the medical journal Diabetes. These diabetic rats also have abnormally low blood levels of the water-soluble vitamin thiamine, they add. The scientists found that adding thiamine, and its fat-soluble derivative benfotiamine, to the animals' food reduced the development of kidney damage by 70 to 80 percent. "A significant proportion of patients with tight blood glucose control still develop (kidney damage) and other complications," Thornalley said in an interview. "Since the thiamine response is independent of blood glucose control, it may well be beneficial to patients with both tightly and conventionally controlled blood glucose." He pointed out that previous studies suggest thiamine and benfotiamine can prevent nerve damage and eye problems related to diabetes. "Thiamine and benfotiamine may also be expected to have some benefit in decreasing the risk of ... heart disease and stroke," he added. However, there is no evidence yet that high-dose thiamine therapy can prevent early kidney damage getting worse once it has started. "It may depend how damaged the kidney has become before dosing begins," he commented. The researcher and his associates hope to begin a small clinical study with diabetic patients early in 2004, "as a precursor to a full clinical trial to test if prevention of diabetic (kidney damage) can be demonstrated unequivocally."