Immunotherapy has been breaking new ground in medical treatments. Now, it has shown promise in yet another condition prevalent in children and young adults: Type 1 diabetes.
British researchers conducted a thorough clinical trial in which they patients diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes were given a truncated version of the chemical that produces insulin, The Los Angeles Times reports. The experimental treatment appeared to halt the immune system’s attacks on the body’s insulin production – a big step forward following over 25 years of failed immune therapy attempts.
The researchers, from Cardiff University and King’s College London, referred to their experimental treatment as “an appealing strategy for prevention” for the earliest stages of Type 1 diabetes and also in children who are genetically at risk.
Led by Dr. Mohammad Alhadj Ali, the researchers isolated a compound called C19 A3 peptide. The peptide is a portion of the chemical that creates insulin, and is called an epitope. The epitope was used in the experimental treatment.
The trial took place over 12 months, with eight diabetics receiving placebos and 19 others receiving the epitope injections. The participants were mostly in their mid- to late-20s, and had all been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the past 100 days before the experiment started.
Those who got placebos required steadily increasing insulin doses, and as their immune systems assaulted the pancreatic cells that produce insulin, the patients’ dosage grew by 50% on average.
On the other hand, the patients who got the experimental treatment continued to produce their own insulin. There was no need to increase their dosage for insulin in the next year following their diagnosis.
The differences in the groups’ results were already evident at three months, and the study offers some early assurances that immunotherapy could be safely used in this specific group of patients.
Researchers have been cautious about using immunotherapy in diabetes because of concerns that it could hasten the immune system’s attacks on the body’s pancreatic cells, or that the treatment could cause allergic reactions.
However, in this study, the immunotherapy injections caused no detectable side effects, not even redness at the injection site. The authors wrote that the treatment’s safety profile was “very favorable.”
The study was published in Science Translational Medicine.