Diabetes Vaccines: Possibilities on the Horizon

Scientists are constantly looking for new treatment options so patients with diabetes can manage their condition and live full, healthy, lives.

Of course, these developments are important and necessary, and these researchers' efforts are greatly appreciated by us all. But we can't help but wonder: wouldn't it be great if, one day in the future, type 1 diabetes was not only curable, but preventable?

Thanks to the many scientists studying and developing vaccines, that incredible dream of a diabetes vaccine might not be too far away.

The BCG Vaccine

Currently, there are two major vaccinations being developed in order to prevent type 1 diabetes. The first features bacillus Calmette-Guérin, or BGC. This inexpensive drug is used in a number of treatments, including treatment for bladder cancer and the tuberculosis vaccine. BCG has even been found to help prolong life in children born with HIV.

And in 2012, another study found that BCG could hold benefit for patients with type 1 diabetes, too. A research team at the Massachusetts General Hospital Immunobiology Lab conducted a study on mine, where they discovered that a BCG vaccine raised the recipient's tumor necrosis factor (TNF). TNF can kill off bad t-cells (those cells that destroy the insulin-secreting cells in the body) while sparing the healthy, normal t-cells – effectively preventing type 1 diabetes.

The BCG vaccine is currently in phase II of a five-year trial, testing the vaccine's effects on human patients. But lead researcher Dr. Denise Faustman, M.D, Ph.D., is optimistic of the vaccine's ability to help people. As she said in an interview with Diabetes in Control, “We’re talking about a considerable number of people, 10 million people out there, that it would be unbelievable if we can get to that point where we can say that we have a cure.”

The Salmonella Vaccine

The other vaccine being developed to prevent diabetes has been in the news for a few months now. In April of this year, lead study author Mohamed Husseiny Elsayed of the Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope in Duarte, CA presented his team's research at ENDO, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Boston.

This study, also conducted on mice, combined “the Salmonella typhimurium bacteria with the immunosuppressive drug Anti-CD3 and cytokines, the small regulatory proteins.” The vaccine had a positive effect on the mice; not only did the vaccine stave off the development of type 1 diabetes, it enabled the mice's glucose tolerance to normalize.

Elsayed calls the vaccine, which was been administered orally during the study, "[A] very safe and effective targeted immunotherapy.” In a press release, he added that “we believe it's a great place to start in the development of a vaccine to stop Type 1 diabetes."

With impressive medical and scientific leaps such as these, who knows? Maybe one day type 1 diabetes will go the way of the dodo.

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