A multi-center group of immunology and diabetes researchers has published a small but rigorous study showing what the future may well look like for the 1.25 million Type-1 diabetics (T1D) in our country, and the millions more worldwide. If confirmed in larger studies, it s a much prettier picture than they are now dealing with.
Since T1D is an auto-immune disease, in which the body s own immune system perceives the insulin-making cells of the pancreas as foreign and destroys them gradually, the scientists decided to try a reverse vaccine approach. A vaccine commonly stimulates the immune system s elaborate mechanism to ramp up its production of protective antibodies. Since it s the antibodies that are attacking the body in the case of T1D, a vaccine was developed to impede the onslaught of the destructive immune cells and preserve the integrity of the pancreatic beta cells that make insulin.
Insulin was isolated as a therapy for the previously fatal diabetes by Banting and Best in 1922, but this lifesaving treatment was and remains both onerous for the victim and not completely effective at preserving health and longevity. The precise details of the inhibition of the destructive CD8 immune cells are beyond the scope of this report, but suffice it to say that among the small study group 80 adults with T1D of less than 5 years duration there were highly-significant reductions in the parameters of beta-cell loss commensurate with declining levels of the target pro-inflammatory CD8 immune cells.
ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross was bowled over by this admittedly preliminary study: While this is only a small, phase-II trial, the elegance of the execution of the theory that by inhibiting the auto-immune attack on the insulin-secreting beta cells, function would be preserved, or even restored and the results cannot be downplayed. If this approach is supported by larger, longer studies, and I for one am confident it will be, those who suffer from type-1 diabetes can hope for a significant improvement in their lifestyle and health within the next five years or so. Unfortunately, this entire paradigm has little to do with the much more common type-2 diabetes, but I believe the insights gleaned will have some overlap with the other related disease.