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Diabetes vaccine shows promise in early trial, helps to preserve body’s insulin in certain patients

A vaccine trial for type 1 diabetes helped sustain the body’s natural insulin production in a small, early research study, particularly in a group of recently diagnosed individuals.

Injecting the protein GAD (or glutamic acid decarboxylase) into a patient lymph nodes efficiently protects their capacity to make insulin, according to a study from Linköping University. When a person has type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin. The immune system of people with type 1 diabetes targets the beta cells in the pancreas that make insulin, a hormone that allows cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. The body’s ability to control blood sugar levels is lost after all of these cells are eliminated. For this reason, those with type 1 diabetes require lifelong insulin shots just to stay alive and those with type 2 diabetes have to monitor their blood sugar constantly.

The researchers at Linköping University sought to see if a vaccination might be able to stop or reduce the loss of these insulin-producing beta cells.

“Studies have shown that even an extremely small production of insulin in the body is highly beneficial for patient health,” lead author Dr. Johnny Ludvigsson, Dr. Johnny Ludvigsson, lead author and senior professor at Linköping University’s Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences, stated in a university release. “People with diabetes who produce a certain amount of insulin naturally do not develop low blood sugar levels, hypoglycemia, so easily.”

For the phase 2 clinical investigation named DIAGNODE-2, the participant group was comprised of 109 people, between the ages of 12 and 24, who had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during the previous six months. Three monthly injections of GAD-alum into each patient’s lymph nodes were given to one group. As a control group, the other individuals were given a placebo.

Type 1 diabetes is more likely in those who have particular forms of immune system genes known as human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes. According to the statement, several HLA types enhance the risk of the autoimmune illness, but one genetic variant known as “HLA-DR3-DQ2” exposes a version of the GAD protein (GAD65) on the surface of beta cells to the immune system. The immune system responds by producing antibodies against the protein and destroying the beta cells.

The HLA gene variation HLA-DR3-DQ2 was found to be responsible for presenting GAD65 proteins to the immune system and causing type 1 diabetes, according to the researchers. Nearly half of the patients in the latest research carried the HLA-DR3-DQ2 gene variation, according to Ludvigsson. Furthermore, while there was no significant change in insulin production between the treatment and placebo groups with the GAD-alum vaccination, the injections did yield beneficial outcomes in individuals with the HLA gene mutation. The injections also don’t seem to have any negative side effects.

“The patients in the subgroup with the DR3-DQ2 type of HLA genes did not lose insulin production as quickly as the other patients. In contrast, we did not see any significant effect in the patients who did not have this HLA type,” Ludvigsson reports.

“Treatment with GAD-alum seems to be a promising, simple and safe way to preserve insulin production in around half of patients with type 1 diabetes, the ones who have the right type of HLA. This is why we are looking forward to carrying out larger studies, and we hope these will lead to a drug that can change the progress of type 1 diabetes,” the study author concludes.

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