A tuberculosis (TB) vaccine invented a century ago may offer a possible cure for type 1 diabetes, according to researchers in the US.
The scientists have published results from an early-stage trial which suggest that the 90-year-old vaccine bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) can reverse type 1 diabetes by regenerating the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
Denise Faustma, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Immunobiology Laboratory, found in previous research with mice that rising levels of a protein known as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) can destroy “bad” anti-insulin T-cells – a key factor in the development of type 1 diabetes – and restore beta cell function.
As the BCG vaccine has been shown to safely raise TNF levels, the researchers tested it on three patients with long-term type 1 diabetes.
After 20 weeks, they discovered an increase in dead “bad” T-cells, an increase in “good” regulatory T cells and a significant hike in C-peptide levels (a marker of pancreatic insulin secretion) in two of the three vaccine patients, which they said indicated a restoration of insulin production.
Faustman and her colleagues are now trying to raise $25 million to conduct larger human trials which, if successful, could lead to the BCG vaccine being used as a long-term solution to type 1 diabetes.

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