DATE: June 24, 2005
A test treatment using antibodies has helped volunteers with insulin-dependent diabetes enjoy virtual independence from insulin injections, European researchers disclosed this week.
Diabetes occurs when lack of the hormone insulin causes wild fluctuations of glucose in the blood, leading to cardiovascular problems, even loss of limbs, kidney failure, blindness and death. Type 1 diabetes is the severer, inherited but rarer form of the disease – it is an auto-immune disorder, in which the body’s defence system attacks insulin-making cells in the pancreas.
The test involved a manufactured monoclonal antibody, CD3, which blocks the white blood cells that are responsible for the problem. Eighty Type 1 diabetics, aged 12 to 39, were enrolled in the study. Half received the antibodies for six consecutive days, while the other half received a harmless placebo.
At an 18-month follow-up, 75% of those who received the antibodies enjoyed a hugely reduced dependence on insulin injections as their pancreas was able to provide the hormone naturally. “Beyond 18 months, there are grounds for believing that the degenerative complications of the disease should also be reduced,” said Lucienne Chatenoud of France’s National Institute for Health and Medical Research, who coordinated the research. The full study paper was published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Type 1 diabetes affects about one in every 400-500 children and adolescents in the United States. Although the disease has a genetic cause, it can be amplified by nutrition and infection. Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity and other lifestyle causes and is spreading fast among adults in more effluent countries. Type 2 diabetics do produce insulin, but at insufficient or inefficient levels – either because it is defective in some way or the cells themselves have become resistant to it.

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