Researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK are developing a new form of treatment for type 1 diabetes, which may put an end to the use of regular insulin injections.
About 400,000 people in the UK are affected with type 1 diabetes, with 29,000 being children.
In type 1 diabetes, the body’s own immune system considers the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas as harmful, leading to attacking and then destroying them, causing a loss of insulin.
The absence of insulin leads to increased levels of glucose in the blood and causes short-term and long-term damages to the patient.
As part of a study, a team led by researchers from the JDRF / Wellcome Trust Diabetes Inflammation Laboratory at the Cambridge Institute of Medical Research used the aldesleukin drug to regulate the immune system in order to prevent a patient’s immune cells from attacking their insulin-producing cells.
Certain types of kidney tumours and skin cancers are currently treated using the recombinant interleukin -2 (IL-2) drug at high doses.
The researchers found that at much lower doses, the drug improves the ability of immune cells known as regulatory T-cells (Tregs), to stop the immune system from losing control once stimulated and does not allow it to damage the body’s own organs.
In order to determine the effects of single doses of aldesleukin on Tregs in patients with type 1 diabetes, a trial design combined with extensive immune monitoring has been employed in 40 participants with type 1 diabetes. It was found that the doses increased Tregs by between 10% to 20%.
Furthermore, the researchers discovered the absence of response of some participants in previous trials may be explained by the daily dosing regimen of aldesleukin used.
Dr Frank Waldron-Lynch, who led the trial, said: “Type 1 diabetes is fatal if left untreated, but the current treatment of multiple daily injections of insulin are at best inconvenient, at worst painful, particularly for children.
“Our next step is to find the optimal ‘Goldilocks’ treatment regimen, too little and it won’t stop the damage, too much and it could impair our natural defences, but just right and it would enhance the body’s own response.”
Type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, the Wellcome Trust and the Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust funded the research, with support from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.
Image: Absence of insulin leads to increased levels of glucose in the blood. Photo: courtesy of Jill Brown.