For the first time, a pioneering therapy could offer a viable alternative to daily doses of insulin for people living with Type 1 diabetes in the UK.
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 currently has no cure.
Type 1 Diabetes is a lifelong condition that affects approximately 400,000 people in the UK, and develops when a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, meaning they cannot efficiently control their blood sugar (glucose) level.
Professor Mark Peakman, who worked on the study, said: “When someone is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes they still typically have between 15% and 20% of their beta cells. We wanted to see if we could protect these remaining cells by retraining the immune system to stop attacking them.”
Otherwise the number of beta cells continues to slowly decrease over time, eventually producing no insulin, and affecting major organs in the body.
In the MonoPepT1De trial, patients were injected with small fragments of the protein molecules found in the beta cells of the pancreas, known as peptides.
This resulted in “noticeable changes” in the behaviour of the immune system, according to the researchers.
“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,” said Peakman.
This also meant that the people were able to take less insulin than before in order to have the same result on their blood glucose levels, which Professor Colin Dayan, at Cardiff University, said “was encouraging”.
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.”
Karen Addington, Chief Executive at diabetes charity JDRF, said: “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.”