A study looking at how to slow down the development of type 1 diabetes has uncovered some “extremely exciting” results, according to Swedish researchers.
A drug called GAD-alum has been found to help maintain insulin production in people with newly-diagnosed type 1 diabetes.
While the study only involved six participants, the study team believes their findings could represent a significant research milestone.
Johnny Ludvigsso, senior professor at Linkðping University and principal investigator for the study, said: “The results for these six patients are very promising. Type 1 diabetes usually progresses gradually as the patient loses the ability to produce insulin, but this has not happened in these patients.
“We must follow them for a longer period and we must include more patients before we can say anything about the effectiveness of the treatment, but the results so far are extremely exciting.”
Ludvigsson and colleagues wanted to reduce attacks carried out by the immune system on insulin-producing cells, which causes type 1 diabetes.
The process often increases the presence of antibodies against the body’s own proteins, such as GAD65, in the beta cells.
The GAD-alum drug used in the study was developed based on GAD65, with researchers hoping it would make participants’ immune systems become more tolerant towards the protein.
Six people aged between 20 and 22, who had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes six months previously, were given injections of GAD-alum into the groin. They were also given vitamin D supplements, which have been shown to reduce the immune system’s inflammatory response.
The findings showed the natural production of insulin in the participants’ bodies remained at a stable level.
“If these results are confirmed when we test more patients, it would be an extremely important advance,” added Ludvigsson.
“The way in which type 1 diabetes progresses differs between individuals for many reasons, and this means that it is not necessary to find a treatment that has excellent effects for everyone. Even if it helps only half of patients, this would be a major step forward.”
The researchers are now planning to continue the DIAGNODE study and extend it to allow more people at younger ages to participate.
The findings have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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