A small group study finds that taking a small dose of oral insulin could prevent type 1 diabetes from developing, acting as a vaccine against the disease.
High risk of type 1 diabetes
Lead author of the study, Ezio Bonifacio, PhD, a professor of diabetes at the Centre for Regenerative Therapies in Dresde, Germany enrolled 25 children at high risk of getting type 1 diabetes.
The children, aged between two and seve, had a strong family history and genes linked to type 1 diabetes, but had not yet suffered the immune attack that characterises type 1.
15 children ate a powdered dose of oral insulin on their food, while 10 children took a placebo. This treatment lasted between three and 18 months, depending on the child, while insulin doses ranged between 2.5 mg to 67.5 mg.
The children given increasing doses of insulin every day, at an average of six months, displayed an immune response that could protect them from type 1 diabetes.
“This is the first time we are seeing any sort of response by the immune system to orally administered insulin in children,” said Bonifacio.
Five of six children who were on the highest dose of oral insulin had an immune response which suggested the protein (insulin) was being tolerated by the immune system, rather than attacked.
None of the children experienced dangerously low blood sugar, a fear of the research team prior to the study, with Bonifacio reporting “less than 1 per cent of the insulin is absorbed into the bloodstream.”
Additional research
While this was only a small study, Julia Greenstei, vice president of discovery research at the JDRF, who helped fund the study, said: “This is a significant finding, and given JDRF’s mission to achieve a world without type 1 diabetes, these study results are exciting.”
The researchers now plan to trial the highest doses of insulin and expect to have results by 2017, while a prevention trial on larger groups of children will take eight or nine years, according to Bonifacio.

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