FEB 17, 2017 10:56 AM PST

Immunotherapy Strategy Could Stop the Progression of Diabetes Type 1

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

For patients with diabetes Type 1, an experimental therapy may be able to slow the progression of their disease. By training the body’s immune cells to stop their attack on insulin producing cells, researchers in Sweden say there’s a new way around diabetes Type 1.

Diabetes mellitus is one of the most common chronic disorders that is characterized by the body’s inability to regulate blood glucose levels. In type 1 diabetes, insulin is not made in enough quantities because the insulin producing cells (beta cells) are attacked and destroyed by the body’s own immune system. As a result, the body is unable to regulate blood sugar levels normally, and diabetics must take great care in monitoring their activity, diet, and glucose levels. This involves daily blood checks and even insulin injections.

But scientists in Sweden see a ripe opportunity for therapy in that not all beta cells die off at once. If they can slow down the destruction of the beta cells, the effects of diabetes may not be so severe.

Indeed, the team, led by Dr. Johnny Ludvigsson, found a way to tame the immune system and make it less aggressive towards the beta cells. To do so, they injected the lymph nodes of six patients with a protein called GAD, which is normally found on the beta cells. Exposure to these proteins, they reasoned, should make the beta cells appear less foreign to the immune cells, and thereby reduce the odds of systemic attack.

Between six and 15 months after the treatment, Ludvigsson’s team followed up with the patients. They report that all six patients showed no marked decline in their diabetes condition. In fact, they seemed to be at a steady state, relative to their disease status upon diagnosis of the diabetes.

"This method has shown the best efficacy so far," said Ludvigsson, senior professor of pediatrics at Linköping University. "But we have to be cautious. The number of patients is small."

It seems injecting GAD directly to the lymph node made all the difference, as previous attempts at introducing GAD through the skin were not nearly as effective. "With a much lower dose, we got a very strong desired effect on the immune system," Ludvigsson said.

The team plans to test their newfound small trial success in larger trials next.

Additional sources: Live Science

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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