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New type of immunotherapy could be game changer for type 1 diabetes

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Treg therapy could stop type 1 diabetes

University of California San Francisco scientists and physicians have conducted a promising first study that could be a game changer for treating type 1 diabetes. The disease affects approximately 1.26 American children and adults according to the American Diabetes Association. The therapy acts by suppressing the body's immune system that attacks insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas.


The very good news is that the treatment is different than other immune suppressing therapies that can have serious consequences including increased risk of cancer and infections.

Type 1 diabetes treatment dampens immune attack on the pancreas

According to the report, published Nov. 25, 2015 in the online issue of Science Translational Medicine, the therapy, known as regulatory T cells or Tregs, leaves the body's ability to fight infection intact.

Rather than suppressing the immune system, Tregs (pronounced Tee-regs) blunt the immune system's attack on beta cells, allowing the body's infection fighting capability to remain strong.

How it works

Researchers for the study explain Treg retrains the immune system to fight type 1 diabetes.

First author Jeffrey A. Bluestone, PhD, the A.W. and Mary Margaret Clausen Distinguished Professor in Metabolism and Endocrinology at UCSF said in a media release: "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."

Bluestone adds Treg therapy could be a "game changer". The treatment uses the patient's own blood cells to repair defects in the immune system that leads to T1D.

The study

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In the first U.S. phase 1 trial researchers enrolled fourteen patients, age 18 to 43 who were recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Four groups of patients received infusions. The fist group received 5 million cells, and the fourth group about 2.6 billion cells.

All four groups tolerate the therapy well. The scientists report the immune cells that help preserve function of the pancreas were still detectable one year after the infusions that contain 2 and 4 million Tregs in addition to millions of other cell types.

One study participant, Mary Rooney, age 39, reported no side effects from the therapy, adding the research is "truly groundbreaking...with enormous potential." Rooney is free from the burden of insulin injections and said she has less fear of diabetes complications.

Also read: Could microbes protect against type 1 diabetes?

Bluestone said Treg could also have potential for treating other autoimmune diseases including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis,neurological and cardiovascular diseases, in addition to being a potential "game changer" for stopping type 1 diabetes from destroying the body's ability to produce insulin.

"Using a patient's own cells - identifying them, isolating them, expanding them, and infusing them back into the patient - is an exciting new pillar for drug development," said Bluestone, "and we expect Tregs to be an important part of diabetes therapy in the future."

Science Translational Medicine 25 Nov 2015:
Vol. 7, Issue 315, pp. 315ra189
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aad4134


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