treat type 2 diabetes

A new form of type 1 diabetes immunotherapy can boost the immune system and restore insulin production in patients for up to a year.

Researchers at the universities of California and Yale report how a trial involving regulatory T cells (Tregs) could lead to type 1 patients being free from insulin injections.

According to lead author Jeffrey A. Bluestone, PhD, University of California, “this could be a game-changer”.

This phase I trial was the first US study in which large numbers of Tregs were taken from the bodies of 14 participants, all of whom had type 1 diabetes and were aged 18-43. Tregs have been shown to reduce the immune system’s attack on insulin-producing beta cells.

Using a technique called ex vivo (outside the body) “isolation and expansion”, the Tregs were then increased in size and infused back into the blood circulation of the patients.

The first group of patients received roughly five million Treg cells, while the fourth group received around 2.6 billion cells. After a year, 25 per cent of the infused cells were still detectable after a single infusion, while none of the patients had any serious adverse reactions.

Dr. Bluestone said: “For type 1 diabetes, we’ve traditionally given immunosuppressive drugs, but this trial gives us a new way forward. By using Tregs to ‘re-educate’ the immune system, we may be able to really change the course of this disease.”

Mara Rooney, a trial participant who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes four years ago, said: “The Treg intervention aims to prevent the development and progression of type 1 diabetes, freeing people like me from the daily grind of insulin therapy and lifelong fear of complications. It’s truly groundbreaking research with enormous potential.”

A phase II trial of Tregs immunotherapy for type 1 diabetes patients is already in the early stages of planning by Caladrius Pharmaceuticals, a New Jersey-based company.

Research into the role Tregs play in diabetes is continually increasing. Earlier this month, Salk Institute researchers called for a diabetes classification of type 4 diabetes after identifying that Tregs were abnormally higher in mice with age-related diabetes, compared to obesity-related diabetes.

The findings were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.