Experimental therapy may slow type 1 diabetes

IT may be possible to slow the progression of type 1 diabetes, according to a new pilot study that used an experimental therapy that centers on the immune system.
In the new study, researchers in Sweden tested a new method to train the immune system to stop attacking the body’s own insulin-producing cells, according to the findings published today (Feb. 15) in the New England Journal of Medicine. With only six participants, the study was small, but experts called these early results exciting.
In people with type I diabetes, the immune system mistakenly recognizes certain proteins in beta cellsas foreign invaders and wages a war against them. Once the beta cells have been killed, the pancreas produces little or no insulin, the hormone that regulates how the body absorbs sugar from the blood to use for energy.
This destruction of beta cells doesn’t happen overnight, however. Although the majority of them are gone by the time someone is diagnosed, some cells manage to dodge the attacks and continue to produce some insulin. That’s why several research teams have been working on finding ways to rescue the remaining cells, or delay their destruction in people who have been recently diagnosed with the condition.
In the new study, the researchers injected a protein normally found on beta cells directly into the patients’ lymph nodes.
“This method has shown the best efficacy so far,” at slowing the disease’s progression, said Dr. Johnny Ludvigsson, senior professor of pediatrics at Linköping University and the study’s lead investigator. “But we have to be cautious. The number of patients is small.”
If confirmed in larger trials, the therapy could bring a number of benefits to patients. The ability to make insulin secretion, even if only at very low levels, dramatically decreases people’s risk of complications, such as episodes of dangerously low blood sugar levels, Ludvigsson told Live Science.
The small amount of insulin that the patients in the study could produce would also make it easier for the patients to maintain a good blood sugar balance, improving their quality of life. It would also reduce their risk of long-term complications of the disease, such as heart attack, stroke, neuropathy, kidney problems and eye disease.
“These are exciting results,” said Dr. Lawrence Steinman, a professor of pediatrics and neurological sciences at Stanford University, who was not involved with the study. Steinman echoed Ludvigsson’s warning that the study is small, and said that trials with more people and which include a control group of patients who are given a placebo are needed to confirm the findings.