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Immunotherapy For Treating Type 1 Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease which is caused by the body destroying cells in the pancreas that control blood sugar levels. There are two main types of diabetes. The immunotherapy was tested on 27 people in the UK showed signs of slowing the disease.

Immunotherapy For Treating Type 1 Diabetes
Immunotherapy for type 1 diabetes

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Diabetes is a disease which is caused by the body destroying cells in the pancreas that control blood sugar levels. There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 where the pancreas does not produce any insulin. This type of diabetes can occur at an early age usually before the age of 40, particularly in childhood. Type 2 where the body does not produce enough insulin or the body's cells do not react to insulin. It usually occurs later in life and is linked with lifestyle of a person ad overweight.

The immunotherapy was tested on 27 people in the UK showed signs of slowing the disease, but this needs confirmation in larger trials.

Aleix Rowlandson, from Lancashire, was diagnosed in 2015 aged 18. She told the BBC "Your blood sugars affect how much energy you have." 

"If they're high, they can make you feel tired. If they're low, you can feel shaky. "I'm more optimistic knowing that the study has gone well and they can further use to find further treatments.''

"Even if it doesn't help me, myself, and it might help other people in the future, I'm very happy." Aleix's immune system is attacking her beta cells, which release the hormone insulin to keep blood sugar levels stable. As a result, she has to inject insulin several times a day.

Aleix takes part in the trials of immunotherapy at the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas'. It is an attempt to reduce her blood sugar levels by tapping into the immune system's natural checks and balances.

Immunotherapies try to get regulatory T cells on-side by exposing them to fragments of proteins found in beta cells.

"This is a landmark in the sense it's the first time it has been done,'' Professor Mark Peakman, from King's College London told the BBC News website. "Importantly, [the trial] shows the overall safety is good and there is some evidence we're restoring the balance and getting some regulatory T cells activated."

Patients given the therapy do not need to increase their dose of insulin during the trial. However, it is very early to say that this therapy reduces type 1 diabetes and larger clinical trials will be needed.

The trial focused on patients who were newly diagnosed with type 1 as they still have about a fifth of their beta cells left. Even retaining these cells would make it easier to manage the condition, but the ultimate goal is to intervene even earlier to hopefully prevent the disease starting. However, it is not likely to help people diagnosed with type 1 years ago.

Professor Peakman further dded: "At that stage, most of the beta cells have gone and we don't find, with any therapies tried, any evidence of regeneration so it seems unlikely to help someone who has had the disease for a while."

All the volunteers were injected either every two or four weeks for six months.

Karen Addington, the UK chief executive of the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, said: "Exciting immunotherapy research like this increases the likelihood that one day insulin-producing cells can be protected and preserved.'' That would mean people at a risk of type 1 diabetes might one day need to take less insulin, and perhaps see a future where no-one would ever face daily injections in order to stay alive.

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