Mr. Divabetic discusses HOT TOPICS related to diabetes health with the Charlie’s Angels of Outreach on May’s Diabetes Late Nite podcast.
One of the hottest topics trending right now is a new study’s claim that swallowing a daily dose of insulin may act like a vaccine to prevent type 1 diabetes in children.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reports that if the results can be repeated in larger and longer trials, the approach may one day be used to help young children at high risk of the disease avoid getting diabetes.
Did you know that blood tests can spot this early immune breakdown?
Apparently these tests aren’t routinely given, though, because doctors don’t have a way to stop the process once it starts.
But scientists wondered if giving children insulin the way you might treat someone with a food allergy — by feeding them tiny amounts of the problem food to build up a tolerance — might prevent the attack.
Researchers say when proteins are introduced to the body through the mouth or nose, or when they’re absorbed through the skin, the immune system learns to see them as safe and will later tolerate them.
“The immune system in these places is there to learn to turn itself off, not on,” says researcher Ezio Bonifacio, PhD, a professor of diabetes at the Center for Regenerative Therapies in Dresden, Germany.
One risk in this approach, though, has been that the insulin might cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar.
Studies in mice bred to get type 1 diabetes have shown that insulin can defuse the immune attack and prevent diabetes, without any effect on blood sugar. But previous studies that have tried the same approach in people were less successful. Experts think it might be because the insulin was given too late in the type 1 disease process or at too low a dose.
“We know that once the process has started, it’s pretty hard to turn it off,” Bonifacio says.
In the new study, “we’re giving the oral insulin at this very early stage when the immune system is learning,” he says. And his team found evidence that the immune system was turning itself down in response to the challenge.
“This is the first time that scientists have been able to demonstrate that a treatment given before someone gets type 1 diabetes can impact the immune system in a way that might protect against the disease,” says Julia Greenstein, PhD, vice president of Discovery Research at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, one of the organizations that funded the study.
Despite the intriguing result, researchers say more work is needed before they’ll know if this approach can head off the disease.
Researchers are planning a new trial to study the highest dose of insulin. That will start later this year. They expect to have results by 2017.
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