Breakthrough in Type 1 diabetes treatment restores insulin production
Californian researchers have made a breakthrough that they believe could be a “game-changer” for people with Type 1 diabetes, freeing them from injecting themselves with insulin.
The American scientists have found that injecting billions of immune cells into the body restores the production of insulin, the hormone secreted by cells in the pancreas which breaks down sugar in the blood.
Diabetes is a lifelong health condition where there is too much glucose in the blood because the body cannot use it properly.
Unlike Type 2 diabetes, Type 1 has nothing to do with lifestyle or weight, is believed to have a genetic element, and is usually diagnosed before the age of 40, most commonly in late childhood, although it can develop at any age.
Healthy people have millions of “T-reg” cells which stop the body’s immune system attacking the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
People with Type 1 diabetes do not have enough T-reg cells to protect the pancreas, however, so it is attacked and stops producing enough insulin.
Everyone diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes is treated with insulin, and the majority inject themselves with insulin daily.
Now, the American scientists have found that T-reg cells can be removed from the body and increased by 1,500 times in a laboratory, the Telegraph reports.
They can then be returned to the bloodstream and will function normally to protect the insulin-producing cells.
The research, which was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, documented a 14-person trial which found that the treatment was safe and lasted for about a year.
Study participants were aged between 18 and 43 and had recently been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Doctors removed around two cups of blood, containing two to four million T-reg cells, which were separated from other cells and allowed to replicate in a laboratory before being infused back into the blood.
A quarter of the cells remained after 12 months, and they were able to protect the pancreas so it could continue to produce insulin.
“This could be a game-changer,” Professor Jeffrey Bluestone of the University of California San Francisco told The Telegraph.
“By using T-regs to ‘re-educate’ the immune system, we may be able to really change the course of this disease.
“We expect T-regs to be an important part of diabetes therapy in the future.”
It is thought that the therapy could not only stop the need for regular insulin injections, but could also stop the disease from progressing and leading to organ damage, blindness and amputations.
The researchers added that the treatment could be developed in future to help people with other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.