Potential new diabetes treatment clears initial test

WASHINGTON — A potential new treatment for Type 1 diabetes has passed its initial test.

In Type 1, which accounts for 5 percent of all diabetics, the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. It’s an autoimmune disease, unlike Type 2 diabetes, which has been linked to obesity and other factors.

Researchers are looking for ways to train the immune system to stop attacking and start protecting the insulin-making cells in Type 1 diabetics. A team at the University of California, San Francisco might have found the answer.

In a small study, they removed certain immune cells from the blood of participants, modified those cells, then put them back into the patients’ bodies.

The UCSF researchers tested for safety and found no adverse reactions. Other immune therapies currently in use carry a fairly high risk of side effects.

It was just the first step in a long drug-approval process, but the lead author of the UCSF study — published online in “Science Translational Medicine” — says this type of immune therapy may ultimately change the course of this disease.

Dr. Michelle Magee, medical director of the MedStar Diabetes Institute, says it is definitely a potential game changer.

She notes while the UCSF study was officially checking for safety, “they do have promising results showing they can reduce the need for insulin for a proportion of the patients, and for some it may even be for a fairly long time.”

But Magee says much more study is needed, and that it is important to test not just for effectiveness, but how long that effectiveness lasts.

“If it’s an expensive therapy and it only works for six months or 12 months, then you have to question what its true role is in the management of type one,” she says. “We need something that will have an enduring effect.”

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