The authors say further investigations that include larger cohorts will be required to evaluate efficacy, but the favorable safety profile they observed suggests immunotherapy could be a viable option for treating type 1 diabetes.
Similar to food allergies, Type 1 diabetes is an immune disorder - a disease in which the immune system misidentifies a harmless or even necessary agent (whether ingested peanuts or insulin-making cells in the pancreas) as a threat. While 8 participants received placebo, the other 19 were injected regularly with a truncated version of the chemical that produces insulin.
The report of the early-stage clinical trial, published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, offers some preliminary reassurance that immunotherapy could be used safely in this growing population.
The disease starts when the body mistakenly targets cells in the pancreas that maintain blood sugar levels.
Immunotherapy trials, by a team at King's College London and Cardiff University, showed "promise" in retraining the patient's immune system to slow the progression of the condition, which now has no cure.
"When someone is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes they still typically have between 15 percent and 20 percent of their beta cells". Patients were randomized into one of three groups: one group received immunotherapy every two weeks; a second group received immunotherapy every four weeks; and a third group received placebo. The subjects' glycemic control and insulin use were then tracked for another six months.
"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".
No therapies exist to stop patients' T cells from progressively destroying insulin-producing β-cells inside the pancreas. "We have learned that immune attacks like this can be suppressed by immune cells called T-regs (regulatory T cells)".
One person, who took part in the trials, was Kris Wood, who was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at 25-years-old, he said: "I was determined to do anything I could to help me fight the condition, so taking part in the trial seemed like a great opportunity". Diagnoses of Type 1 diabetes have escalated at an annual average of 4percent in recent decades.