A new study into a “reverse vaccine” for Type I Diabetes patients offers a new treatment strategy. In a recent clinic trail researchers at Stanford University tested the vaccine and found promising results in combating Type 1 diabetes.
In Type 1 diabetes the body doesn’t produce insulin, the hormone necessary to convert food into energy. The standard treatment for this condition is insulin therapy which allows the body to break down sugars and starches. Individuals with Type 1 face other health risks including heart and blood vessel disease, foot damage, eye damage, osteoporosis, and pregnancy complications. It is believed that in the U.S. over 3 million men, women and children are living with Type 1 diabetes.
The disease causes the immune system to attack insulin producing cells in the pancreas. This is similar to other autoimmune diseases. A healthy pancreas secretes insulin into the bloodstream which then circulates allowing sugar to enter the bodies’ cells.
A “reverse vaccine” is shown to allow individuals with Type 1 diabetes to produce their own insulin. The reverse vaccine protects the insulin producing cells in the pancreas so the hormone is able to convert sugars and starches into energy. Stanford researchers refer to new treatment as a reverse vaccine because of instead of boosting or stimulating the immune system the vaccine reduces the number of attacks by killer cells attacking the body’s normal cells.
Past research attempted to suppress large portions of the immune system. Researchers call this using “the big hammer” approach. The researchers instead design a molecule containing the gene for making proinsulin. Proinsulin is the precursor to insulin. The same molecule also gave “instructions” causing the killer cells response to shut down. The researchers found that the DNA instructions inside molecule worked in successful trials with diabetic mice.
The next phase of trials involved 80 human volunteers with Type 1 diabetes between the ages of 18 to 40. All had been diagnosed within the last five years, and had lost all insulin producing cells. Two-thirds of the participants received reverse vaccine doses between 0.3 to 6.0mg. The remaining volunteers were given a placebo. In the 12 weeks taken for the study both those receiving a dose and those receiving a placebo also stayed on their insulin therapy.
Researchers checked both groups to find levels of killer cells and C-peptide which is a protein involved in making insulin. Those who received the true doses saw improvements, but those receiving a higher dose saw greater improvement up to 15 weeks without affecting other immune cells outside the pancreas. Three months after the treatment stopped the C-peptide levels dropped. Researchers believe it would be necessary for patients to take doses repeatedly, perhaps for life in order to see an ongoing difference in lowering killer cells and increasing the amount of proinsulin.