Diabetes vaccine shows shows promise in early experiments
An experimental vaccine may be able to delay or prevent the autoimmune disease
The diabetes drug market is a $43 billion-a-year business. Photograph: Ralph Orlowski/Reuters
An early stage study suggests an experimental vaccine may be able to tame bits of the immune system that go haywire in people with type 1 diabetes, offering hope for a new way to delay or prevent the autoimmune disease, researchers said yesterday.
For more than four decades, scientists have tried different ways of manipulating the immune system to stop the destruction of insulin-producing cells that is responsible for type 1 diabetes.
Some prior attempts suppressed desirable parts of the immune system, leaving individuals vulnerable to infections and cancer. Several teams are now attempting more targeted approaches in an effort to delay or reverse type 1 diabetes. Those with this form of diabetes currently must monitor their blood sugar and take insulin several times a day, but the treatment is risky – it can cause coma or death at any time and can lead to heart disease, nerve damage, blindness and kidney failure over time.
In the latest effort, published yesterday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, teams from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands and Stanford University in California tested a vaccine genetically engineered to shut down only the immune system cells causing harm, while leaving the rest of the immune system intact.
“The idea here is to turn off just the rogue immune cells that are attacking the pancreas and killing the beta cells that secrete insulin,” said Stanford professor Dr Lawrence Steinman, one of the study’s senior authors and co-founder of a company called Tolerion recently formed to commercialize the vaccine. The study, done in 80 people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes who were receiving insulin injections, was designed to test the safety of the vaccine known as TOL-3021. After 12 weeks of shots given once a week, patients who got the vaccine showed signs that they helped preserve some of the remaining insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas without causing serious side effects.