Researchers from the University of Florida have developed a new treatment aimed at stopping the immune system from killing off insulin producing cells in type 1 diabetes.
The treatment involves taking two different forms of drug. The first, Thymoglobuli, is a drug of rabbit-derived antibodies that act against T cells in the human body. T cells are white blood cells that normally work to fight infection but, in type 1 diabetes, they have a destructive effect of killing working insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Thymoglobulin is usually used to prevent rejection of transplanted organs, such as for kidney transplants.
The second drug is Neulasta, a drug used in the treatment of certain cancers. Neulasta, which has the medical name pegfilgrastim, which stimulates a greater level of neutrophils, white blood cells which respond to inflammation and also help fight infection. Previous research has also linked Neulasta to increasing the number of regulatory T cells. In type 1 diabetes, a lack of regulatory T cells enables rogue killer T cells to attack the pancreas.
The University of Florida research team, led by paediatric endocrinologist Dr Michael Haller, have started human trials on 25 adults with type 1 diabetes. 17 of the patients have been put onto the Thymoglobulin and Neulasta, and 8 onto a placebo treatment. After a year, the group on the treatment are able to produce more of their own insulin than the placebo group.
The researchers noted that they are cautiously optimistic that the treatment may have stimulated the production of more beta cells, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin and are the target of immune system attack in type 1 diabetes. The Florida researchers will continue to follow the study participants for three to five years to monitor the success of the treatment.
Dr Haller said of the research: “Despite tremendous strides in our understanding of the natural history of Type 1 diabetes, we are as yet unable to cure and prevent the disease. This study is a step in that directio, toward a biological cure.”

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