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Pioneering immunotherapy halts progression of type 1 diabetes

Published on 10/08/17 at 09:56am

In a first for the disease area, an immunotherapy treatment for diabetes, developed by researchers at King’s College London and Cardiff University, has proven its ability to halt the progression of the type 1 form of the illness.

Peptide immunotherapy, an antigen-specific form of the treatment, operates by utilising proinsulin peptide fragments – a precursor form of insulin – to minimise adverse immune response. This can then spur regulatory T cells to neutralise adverse responses from inflammatory T cells mistakenly attacking pancreatic beta cells, the source of the body’s insulin, effectively addressing the cause of the disease.

The therapy was employed in a study of 27 participants who were within 100 days of a type 1 diabetes diagnosis. The participants were separated into two groups, with one subgroup receiving the new therapy and the other taking placebo at two or four week intervals over a period of six months, with a monitoring period of six months after the study.

The team found that while those administered with placebo needed to increase their dose of insulin, those taking the immunotherapy did not as the treatment had stabilised their condition, with evidence of regulatory immune system response and decreased activation of T cells attacking the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Furthermore, the treatment

"When someone is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes they still typically have between 15% and 20% of their beta cells,” explained Professor Mark Peakman, of Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London. “We wanted to see if we could protect these remaining cells by retraining the immune system to stop attacking them. We still have a long way to go, but these early results suggest we are heading in the right direction. The peptide technology used in our trial is not only appears to be safe for patients at this stage, but it also has a noticeable effect on the immune system."

Prof Colin Dayan from Cardiff University, the clinical Chief Investigator for the study, added: "It was encouraging to see that people who receive the treatment needed less insulin to control their blood glucose levels, suggesting that their pancreas was working better.”

The treatment could mean big changes to the lives of those suffering with type 1 diabetes. As Karen Addington, the UK chief executive of the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, notes: “Exciting immunotherapy research like this increases the likelihood that one day insulin-producing cells can be protected and preserved. That would mean people at risk of type 1 diabetes might one day need to take less insulin, and perhaps see a future where no-one would ever face daily injections to stay alive."

However, it could be a long while before these ground-breaking findings reach patients. “We’re looking at a drug that could be usable in five to 10 years, if everything goes well,” co-author Mark Peakman of King’s College London cautioned.

Matt Fellows

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