Type 1 Diabetes Progression Stabilized By Immunotherapy: New Study

A small study involving 27 people has shown that immunotherapy can safely deter the progression of early-stage type 1 diabetes, a condition that occurs when a person’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in their pancreas.

“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,” said Andrew Hattersley from the University of Exeter who was not one of the study’s authors.

The immunotherapy was based on the supposition that protein fragments resembling an antigen* can diminish the body’s immune response to that antigen. The protein fragments incite regulatory immune cells to dampen the response of attacking immune cells.

For this study, the researchers used a protein fragment from a precursor form of insulin, called a proinsulin peptide. The participants, each with early-stage type 1 diabetes, were randomly assigned to the proinsulin peptide (immunotherapy) group, or to the placebo group. Those in the immunotherapy group received the peptide injections either every two weeks, or every four weeks for six months.

All participants were monitored for six months following their therapy. Unlike the participants receiving the placebo, those in the immunotherapy group did not need to increase their insulin doses, indicating the peptide injections stabilized their condition. The immunotherapy subjects also showed signs of enhanced regulatory immune system activity, and less activation of beta cell-attacking immune cells.

Though promising, the study results need to be replicated in larger trials. “We’re looking at a drug that could be usable in five to 10 years, if everything goes well,” says researcher Mark Peakman, King’s College London.

Source: Aggie Mika/The Scientist
Photo credit: Pete

* Antigens are toxic or foreign substances that trigger immune responses in the body.

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