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Vaccine for Type 1 Diabetes Promising So far in Early Study

Update Date: Jun 27, 2013 10:19 AM EDT

Type one diabetes is often diagnosed in children and young adults. Unlike the more common disease, type two diabetes, which occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or when the cells ignore the insulin already present in the body, type one is characterized by the complete lack of insulin production. Researchers have been studying how to prevent type one diabetes since there is no cure for the chronic illness. Now, a new type one diabetes vaccine currently in an early stage trial shows promising results of its effectiveness in stalling or preventing the autoimmune disease from manifesting.

"What one really wants to do is tame or regulate the specific aspects of the immune system that have gone awry and leave the rest of the immune system intact," the chief scientific officer of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Dr. Richard Insel said according to Reuters. Previous researchers have tried to suppress the immune system in order to find a way to prevent type one diabetes. This method, however, increases one's risk of cancer and infections.

In this study, researchers from the Netherlands' Leiden University Medical Center and Stanford University in California experimented with a vaccine, TOL-3021. The vaccine was genetically altered to be capable of shutting down the harmful immune system cells without affecting the rest of the system. The vaccine works by targeting a precursor protein known as proinsulin, which is found in the blood. The researchers recruited 80 people who were already diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The participants were all receiving insulin injections.

After 12 weeks of shots that were administered once a week, the vaccine appeared to help maintain some insulin-producing beta cells within the pancreas. The team also noted that people who took the vaccine had higher levels of C-peptides, which is a sign that the insulin beta cells were working. The vaccine also lowered the number of T cells, which are known to be killer immune cells.

"So far, it looks like it is doing what we want," Stanford professor, Dr. Lawrence Steinman said. Steinman is one of study's authors and the co-founder of the company, Tolerion, created to commercialize the vaccine when the time is ready. "It looks like it has some potential, but very small numbers."

A new and longer study hoping to recruit as many as 200 patients is currently being designed. The study was published in the journal, Science Translational Medicine.

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