'Reverse' vaccine for diabetes shows promising results

A vaccine that would allow type 1 diabetics to produce their own insulin has shown promising results in initial trials, according to research from Stanford University.

The "reverse" vaccine suppresses the immune system as opposed to stimulating it, protecting cells in the pancreas that make insulin. In type 1 diabetics, the immune system attacks these cells, destroying their ability to function. The therapy appeared to help reduce the number of cells that go into attack mode against insulin-producing cells.

Targeted treatment

The standard treatment for type 1 diabetes is insulin replacement therapy, while newer treatments are focusing on suppressing larger systems of the immune system through drugs. The reverse vaccine, in contrast, is a more targeted approach.

"We're trying to do something different," said Dr. Lawrence Steinman, senior author of the study and immunologist at Stanford University. "We want to eliminate just the immune cells that attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas."

Supposing the treatment worked perfectly, the therapy would enable the pancreatic cells to function normally.

Human trials

Steinman and his research team used the vaccine first on diabetic mice, and then recruited 80 volunteers for a human trial. The participants had all been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes within the last five years.

Two-thirds of the participants received one of four different doses of the vaccine, ranging from 0.3 to 6 milligrams, while the rest of the study subjects took a placebo. All participants had injections of either the vaccine or the placebo for 12 weeks, and they also all received insulin replacement therapy.

Researchers looked for changes in killer cells and C-peptide – a protein involved in the insulin-making process. They found that in the vaccine group, the number of killer cells and C-peptide levels had improved – without changes to the rest of the immune system cells. The placebo group only showed modest changes.

Dr. Hertzel Gerstein, an endocrinologist at McMaster University in Ontario who works with diabetic patients, said the research could indicate hope for future treatments.

"It's a small study with preliminary findings," Gerstein said. "It could or could not translate into anything clinically relevant. But certainly this holds some promise ... there is potential for protecting people from the ravages of this disease in the long run."

Source: LA Times

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