Type 1 diabetes immunotherapy proven safe in first trial

August 11, 2017

A pioneering immunotherapy against type 1 diabetes that has been designed to retrain the body’s immune system and slow the advance of the disease has been shown to be safe in its first trial.

Tested on 27 patients in the UK, the immunotherapy also showed signs of slowing the disease, but this needs confirming in larger trials.

Experts said the advance could one day free people from daily injections.

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body destroying cells in the pancreas that control blood sugar levels.

Taking part in the trials of the immunotherapy at the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ is Aleix Rowlandson, from Lancashire, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2015 aged 18.

Aleix’s immune system is attacking her beta cells, which release the hormone insulin to keep blood sugar levels stable.

In an interview, she said energy is affected by the blood sugar level in the body. If the body’s blood sugar is too high, it makes you feel tired and if it’s too low, it can make you feel shaky.

As a result, she has to inject insulin several times a day.

She joined the trial in an attempt to stop her diabetes by tapping into the immune system’s natural checks and balances.

The body’s defense system is primed to attack hostile invaders.But it also has “regulatory T cells”, which calm the immune response and prevent it attacking the body’s own tissues.

Immunotherapies try to get regulatory T cells on-side by exposing them to fragments of proteins found in beta cells.

Prof Mark Peakman, from King’s College London, said the immunotherapy is a landmark therapy in the sense that it’s the first time it has been done.More importantly, the trial showed the overall safety is good and there is some evidence that balance is being restored and some regulatory T cells are being activated, he said.

Patients given the therapy did not need to increase their dose of insulin during the trial.

However, it is too soon to say this therapy stops type 1 diabetes and larger clinical trials will be needed.

And further types of immunotherapy that should deliver an even stronger reaction are already underway.

The trial focused on patients newly diagnosed with type 1 as they still have about a fifth of their beta cells left.

Even retaining these cells would make it easier to manage the condition, but the ultimate goal is to intervene even earlier to hopefully prevent the disease starting.

However, it is not likely to help people diagnosed with type 1 years ago.

Prof Peakman added: “At that stage, most of the beta cells have gone and we don’t find, with any therapies tried, any evidence of regeneration so it seems unlikely to help someone who has had the disease for a while.”

All the volunteers were injected either every two or four weeks for six months.

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Category: Features, Wellness and Complementary Therapies

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