An immunotherapy approach has shown to be safe and successful in halting type 1 diabetes, according to a new study.
When this new treatment from UK researchers was tested, newly-diagnosed patients had no need to increase their insulin levels and there were no signs of further beta cell damage.
“We’re looking at a drug that could be usable in five to 10 years, if everything goes well,” said study author Mark Peakma, from King’s College London.
The immunotherapy approach involves injecting a person’s blood with proinsulin, a molecule produced by insulin-producing beta cells that is then turned into insulin.
Type 1 diabetes is characterised by the immune system mistakenly conducting T cells to attack these beta cells, but proinsulin helps to create fragments which stop this attack. Consequently, more proinsulin can be made.
Twenty-one people with type 1 diabetes diagnosed within the past 100 days were given the treatment, while eight others without diabetes were given placebo. Both groups received injections every few weeks for six months.
One year after the study began the placebo group had increased their injected insulin doses by an average of 50 per cent. However, those in the immunotherapy group had no such rises, no adverse reactions, and no accelerated beta cell damage.
Researchers hope the drug could be given to children with newly-diagnosed type 1 diabetes, and to those with a higher risk of the condition.
Study author Andrew Hattersley, University of Exeter, said: “The fact that this small study, designed to assess safety, suggests there may be a beneficial outcome is exciting, as we desperately need safe immune interventions that can prevent the decline of the patient’s own insulin secretion in type 1 diabetes.”
The findings appear online in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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