An Experimental New Therapy Could Halt Type-1 Diabetes

Currently type 1 diabetics must monitor their blood sugar and inject themselves with insulin

Importantly, all eight subjects in the placebo arm needed to increase their insulin doses over the 12-month course of the study, whereas individuals receiving the new treatment all remained stable.

The report of the early-stage clinical trial, published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, offers some preliminary reassurance that immunotherapy could be used safely in this growing population.

Speaking on the topic, Dr. Peakman said, "Type 1 diabetes comes about when the immune system inadvertently and irreparably damages beta cells that make insulin ..." In the current study, injections of an immunotherapeutic agent caused no detectable worrisome response - not even redness or swelling at the site of injection - prompting the authors to declare its safety profile "very favorable".

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The immunotherapy literally re-educates the body's immune system, and teaches the cells that they should not attack the beta cells. The approach, called antigen-specific immunotherapy, has seen growing success in the treatment of allergies to common foods, such as peanuts, eggs and soy.

There is now no cure for type 1 diabetes, which can affect major organs in the body, including the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. What's more, researchers have been hesitant to implement newer clinical strategies like immunotherapies - molecules created to stave off destructive immune responses in diabetes by mimicking a portion of proinsulin peptide - due to concerns of inadvertently aggravating the disease.

There may be the potential to "retrain" the immune system to slow the progression of type 1 diabetes, according to results of a new clinical trial.

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Here, researchers used a proinsulin peptide fragment-a snippet of the precursor form of insulin. Patients were randomized into one of three groups: one group received immunotherapy every two weeks; a second group received immunotherapy every four weeks; and a third group received placebo. The subjects' glycemic control and insulin use were then tracked for another six months.

"That would mean people at risk of type 1 diabetes might one day need to take less insulin, and perhaps see a future where no one would ever face daily injections to stay alive". Twenty-seven people with early-stage type 1 diabetes were randomly assigned to receive the placebo or the proinsulin peptide immunotherapy. Thus the immune cells attack this imposter and leave the insulin secreted intact. Furthermore, the patients demonstrated signs of increased regulatory immune responses, and decreased activation of beta cell-attacking T cells. Type 1 diabetes is now considered to be incurable.

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