Breakthrough reverse vaccine helps shut down type-1 diabetes immune attack

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
'Reverse vaccine' uses DNA to shut down type-1 diabetes attack on pancreas

In a clinical trial, Stanford University researchers have found a vaccine shuts down the immune response that causes type 1 diabetes. Unlike conventional vaccines that boost immunity, the new treatment does the opposite.

The breakthrough in type 1 diabetes treatment could mean new treatments for people living with the disorder because the vaccine boosts the amount of insulin production indirectly.

The researchers modified DNA that contains the INS gene to help the body increase production of proinsulin, which is a precursor to insulin that is secreted in the pancreas.

The scientists refer to the type 1 diabetes treatment as a 'reverse vaccine'.

Lead author Dr. Lawrence Steinman, professor of pediatrics and of neurology and neurologic sciences at Stanford explained in a Fox News release that the vaccine shuts down cells that prevent the body from producing insulin.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s CD-8 immune cells attack the pancreas. The therapy is not a cure for the disease, but it could mean people with the disease would need fewer insulin injections.

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The treatment involves a series of shots that might later need to be repeated, Steinman said.

For the study, 80 patients were given one injection a week for 12-weeks. All were taking insulin before the start of the study.

The researchers measured C-peptide levels that provide information about how well the pancreas work to produce insulin. Testing was performed at baseline and repeated at 15 weeks, and again at six, nine, 12, 18 and 24 months.

Compared to placebo, all of the participants had an improvement in C-peptide levels, CD-8 cells that attack the pancreas in type 2 diabetes were significantly depleted but no other immune cells were adversely affected.

“This is the first demonstration of a DNA vaccine targeting type-1 diabetes in humans,” said Richard Insel, MD, chief scientific officer of JDRF, formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in a press release. Insel explains people with lower C-peptide levels have less chance of diabetes complications including nerve, kidney and eye damage.

The researchers have applied for a patent on the 'reverse vaccine' that is called TOL-3021. Type 1 diabetes affects more than 3 million people in the United States, but the reasons the disease are poorly understood.

The results were published June 26 in Science Translational Medicine.

The next step is to test the type 1 diabetes vaccine in larger clinical trials. The treatment may take years to be developed, but for millions of people living with the disease, is a positive step. The 'reverse vaccine' is the first of its kind to use DNA to treat type-1 diabetes in humans.