UK drug that boosts immune cell could halt childhood diabetesPioneering work could bring us a 'step closer to a world without diabetes'
03:33 GMT, 6 February 2013
03:33 GMT, 6 February 2013
Although Type 1 diabetes most commonly develops in childhood, it can strike at any time
A drug that could stop children from developing diabetes is being tested by British scientists.
In future, youngsters could be screened for vulnerability at school, then given the drug to keep them healthy.
Even delaying the onset of childhood, or Type 1, diabetes could have huge benefits in terms of long-term health.
Charities said the pioneering work could bring us a ‘step closer to a world without diabetes’.
Britain’s 400,000-plus Type 1 diabetics rely on multiple injections of insulin a day to keep them alive, and face complications in later life ranging from amputations to blindness.
The condition is caused when the immune system kills cells in the pancreas which make insulin, the hormone which converts sugar into energy. It can take 20 years off life and the number of sufferers is soaring.
Its causes are not clear, but unlike Type 2 diabetes, which is also on the rise, it is not linked to poor diet and obesity.
The drug, which is being developed at King’s College London and Cardiff University, tries to bring the immune system back under control by boosting numbers of a second, protective type of immune cell.
In a trial that is under way, 24 diabetics will be given vaccination-type injections every two weeks for six months.
An earlier trial found the drug to be safe and to produce ‘encouraging’ changes in the immune system.
King’s researcher Mark Peakman said: ‘With prevention there is everything to play for.’ Another option would be to slow or delay progression of the condition in those who have recently been diagnosed.
The drug tries to bring the immune system back under control by boosting numbers of a second, protective type of immune cell
(posed by models)
Much more research is needed, however, meaning the treatment is five to ten years away from widespread use.
The treatment is not expected to help those who have had the condition for years and will be of no benefit to sufferers of Type 2 diabetes.
Professor Peakman, who is collaborating with Colin Dayan, of Cardiff University, said: ‘We are facing something of an epidemic of Type 1 diabetes.
‘Once you have it as a child, you have got it for life and it leads to complications and obviously it is not a very nice thing to live with.’ He added that more volunteers are needed for the trial. They should be aged between 18 and 40 and have recently been diagnosed with the condition.
Sarah Johnson, of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which is part funding the study, said: ‘If this drug works, it would mean that there will be a future generation for whom Type 1 diabetes is no longer a risk.
‘But it is early days. This is not something that is going to happen tomorrow.’
She said understanding how to prevent the condition will aid the search for a cure for those who already have it.
Although Type 1 diabetes most commonly develops in childhood, it can strike at any time. The exact causes are unknown but genes are thought to play a part, as well as perhaps viral infections.