- Type 1 diabetes is a condition where the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, stopping them producing the hormone
- Experts found injecting immune cells into the body protects the pancreas
- Treatment restored the production of insulin for a year and was safe
- Could end need for injections and prevent the disease from progressing
Millions of people with Type 1 diabetes may be freed from injecting themselves with insulin every day after a breakthrough discovery.
Scientists have found that injecting billions of immune cells into the body restores the production of the hormone, which breaks down sugar in the blood.
Experts said the treatment, which lasted for a year, could be a ‘game-changer’ for people with the disease.
Millions of people with Type 1 diabetes may be freed from inject themselves with insulin every day, scientists claim. They found injecting billions of immune cells into the body restores the production of the hormone
Diabetes is a life-long health condition where there is too much glucose in the blood because the body cannot use it properly.
Insulin is the hormone secreted by cells in the pancreas which breaks down sugar in the blood.
Healthy people have millions of ‘T-reg’ cells which stop the body’s immune system attacking these insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
However, people with Type 1 diabetes do not have enough T-reg cells to protect the pancreas, and so it is attacked and stops making enough insulin.
Everyone diagnosed with Type 1 is treated with insulin, and the majority inject themselves with insulin multiple times daily.
Now, Californian researchers have found that T-reg cells can be removed from the body and increased by 1,500 times in a laboratory, the Telegraph reports.
Then, they can be put back into the bloodstream and will function normally to protect the insulin-producing cells.
A trial of 14 people found the treatment is safe – and lasts up to 12 months.
The people in the study were aged between 18 and 43 and had recently been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Doctors removed around two cups of blood containing two to four million T-reg cells.
These were separated from other cells and allowed to replicate in a laboratory, before being infused back into the blood.
Insulin is the hormone secreted by cells in the pancreas (pictured) which breaks down sugar in the blood. People with type 1 diabetes stop making insulin as the body’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas
A quarter were found to be there after 12 months, and they were able to protect the pancreas so it could continue to produce insulin.
Professor Jeffrey Bluestone, of the University of California San Francisco, told The Telegraph: ‘This could be a game-changer.
‘By using T-regs to “re-educate” the immune system, we may be able to really change the course of this disease.
‘We expect T-regs to be an important part of diabetes therapy in the future.’
The therapy could stop the need from regular insulin injections.
It could also stop the disease from progressing, leading to organ damage, blindness and limb amputations.
The team added that the treatment could be developed in future to help people with other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
It may even help people with cardiovascular disease, neurological disease and obesity.
The research was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Commenting on the study, Alasdair Rankin, of Diabetes UK, said: ‘Regulating the immune system in people with Type 1 diabetes to stop insulin producing cells being killed is an important part of research towards a cure.
‘The clinical study described today is exciting early research, but it will be some time before we know if it will become an effective treatment.’
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TYPE 1 AND TYPE 2 DIABETES?
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 develops when the insulin-producing cells in the body have been destroyed, leaving the body unable to produce any insulin at all.
Everyone diagnosed with Type 1 is treated with insulin.
Scientists don’t know why the insulin-producing cells are destroyed in people with the condition.
All those diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes are treated with insulin, pictured
It is thought to be caused by an abnormal, autoimmune, reaction to the cells, which could be triggered by a virus or other infection.
Experts believe there is a genetic element to Type 1 diabetes.
It is more common in some parts of the world than others.
Unlike Type 2, Type 1 diabetes has nothing to do with lifestyle or weight.
The condition can develop at any age, but is usually diagnosed before the age of 40, most commonly in late childhood.
Around 10 per cent of the 3.5 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK have Type 1.
Type 2 diabetes
The condition develops when the body is still able to make insulin, but not enough.
It also develops when the insulin that is produced by the body does not work properly – known as insulin resistance.
Initially, Type 2 diabetes can be controlled with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Being obese or overweight is the biggest risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes
Medication is also often required and a large number of sufferers eventually progress to needing insulin.
People who are overweight and have a large waist, are more likely to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes – it is the biggest risk factor.
Those who have a close relative with the condition, or who are from a black or South Asian background are also at increased risk.
The condition usually affects those aged over 40, but people from South Asia are commonly affected from the age of 25.
Around 90 per cent of the 3.5 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK have Type 2.
In addition, there are 549,000 people who have Type 2 diabetes but don’t know they have it because they haven’t been diagnosed.