Immunotherapy Shown Safe in Type 1 Diabetes Clinical Trial

From - August 9, 2017

Immunotherapy Shown Safe in Type 1 Diabetes Clinical Trial

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 9, 2017 -- A small clinical trial showed an immune system therapy was safe for people with type 1 diabetes, British researchers report.

The immunotherapy also showed signs of helping to keep insulin production steady in people newly diagnosed with the disease, the study authors said. However, because this was a placebo-controlled safety trial, there were not enough people included to know for sure how well the treatment works.

The therapy is similar to an allergy shot in the way it works, the researchers explained.

"Type 1 diabetes comes about when the immune system inadvertently and irreparably damages beta cells that make insulin," said one of the study's authors, Dr. Mark Peakman. He's a professor of clinical immunology at King's College London in England.

Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone that helps usher the sugar from foods into the body's cells to be used as energy. If the immune system continues to attack the beta cells, which are found in the pancreas, a person with type 1 diabetes will no longer make enough insulin to meet the body's needs. It's at this point that they must take insulin injections or use an insulin pump to replace the lost insulin.

Peakman and his colleagues are trying to stop the attacks on the beta cells.

"We have learned that immune attacks like this can be suppressed by immune cells called T-regs (regulatory T cells)," Peakman said.

When people develop type 1 diabetes, it's likely that they do not have enough of the right type of T-regs or those T-regs are not working very well. So, the investigators developed a type of treatment called peptide immunotherapy using disease-related autoantigens.

Autoantigens are the substances that cause an autoimmune attack, but it's not clear which ones are responsible for a person's diabetes, according to Simi Ahmed, a senior scientist at JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) in New York City.

Ahmed said the immunotherapy re-educates the immune system, and teaches the cells that they should not attack the beta cells.

Peakman pointed out that the researchers "used peptide immunotherapy as a way to try and induce more of these cells and/or make them work better. Our results show encouraging signs that this can be achieved. Next steps will be bigger trials to test whether the therapy can halt beta cell damage."

And, he added, "Scientists think this works by enhancing natural immune networks that control inflammation."

The study included 27 people with type 1 diabetes who had been diagnosed with the disease within 100 days. The study volunteers were randomly selected to be in one of three groups: a placebo group; a group given immunotherapy once every four weeks; and a group that received the immunotherapy injection once every two weeks.

The study team measured levels of a substance called C-peptide, which is created when insulin is produced. Stable or increasing levels of C-peptide indicate that insulin is being made. Declining levels indicate that less insulin is being made.

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