Researchers have been wary of pursuing the strategy in diabetes, anxious that it could accelerate or strengthen the immune system's attack on insulin-producing pancreatic cells, or cause risky allergic reactions.
Just as lab-produced chemical snippets of peanuts accustom an overactive immune system to the eventual introduction of real peanuts, the researchers hoped that the chemical flag they devised would teach the immune systems of newly diagnosed diabetics to recognize insulin and call off their attack on its source. As many as 1.25 million Americans are living with type 1 diabetes, and the autoimmune disorder's prevalence has been increasing in recent decades, with roughly 40,000 people diagnosed each year. The authors of the new study call their experimental treatment "an appealing strategy for prevention", both in the earliest stages of Type 1 diabetes and in children who are at high genetic risk of developing the disease.
Dr. Mark Peakman, a professor of clinical immunology at King's College London in England, said they found that the immunotherapy had the potential to stop the attacks on beta cells that make insulin.
Scientists are a step closer to finding a cure for diabetes, after they successfully created insulin-producing cells from skin using stem cell techniques.
Results showed there was no evidence of toxic side effects or accelerated B-cell destruction during the trial, nor during the six-month follow up period.
A larger study is needed to determine efficacy, but the small study has proven the safety profile of immunotherapy and its promising future as a therapy for treating type I diabetes. The non-treatment group, to the contrary, gradually needed more and more insulin doses in order to keep glycemic levels in check.
"We still have a long way to go, but these early results suggest we are heading in the right direction", he added. "The peptide technology used in our trial is not only appears to be safe for patients at this stage, but it also has a noticeable effect on the immune system", said Peakman.
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