Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition whereby the person’s own immune system attacks the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Insulin signals for glucose uptake into cells, a carefully regulated and important process, that when disrupted, can lead to an array of health complications, and without treatment, results in death. Many advances in the care of type 1 diabetes have been made in the last century; however, there is no cure for the condition, and patients rely on frequent blood glucose monitoring and insulin injection or infusion therapy to survive.
We have been closely following the work of Dr. Bart Roep and his colleagues at the City of Hope over the last several years. We first spoke to him at the 79th American Diabetes Association (ADA) Scientific Sessions in 2019.
“Dr. Roep has dedicated his professional life to trying to cure type 1 diabetes. Over an almost 30-year career, he has earned numerous prestigious awards and is perhaps most well-known for his work discovering how T-cells recognize specific antigens on beta cells in the context of type 1 diabetes pathogenesis. Currently, he is Chan Soon-Shiong Shapiro Distinguished Chair in Diabetes and the founding chair of the Department of Diabetes Immunology within City of Hope’s Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute. Dr. Roep is also the director of the Wanek Family Project for Type 1 Diabetes.”
The immune system coordinates defenses against pathogens (like viruses and bacteria) via intricate cross-talk between different immune cells in the body. It is also able to recognize the host (self-tolerance) and under normal circumstances, should not attempt to destroy the person’s own cells (with the exception of special circumstances, like cancerous cells, for instance).
For the treatment of autoimmune conditions, like type 1 diabetes, much research is ongoing in an effort to “re-write” some of the “programming” and cellular cross-talk thought to be responsible for autoimmune attack. The “inverse vaccine” for the treatment of type 1 diabetes attempts to do just that in the following process:
- Immune cells are taken from patients and “re-educated” in the test tube to improve self- tolerance
- These cells are injected back into the patient, in hopes that they will not longer drive autoimmune attack, but rather “educate” the immune system to tolerate the person’s own beta cells
Last year, we reported that the initial safety and tolerability studies appeared promising.
Now, additional clinical trials are poised to begin:
“The vaccine is made using one’s own immune cells (dendritic cells) and a beta cell protein. The vaccine may teach the immune system to stop attacking the beta cells, which may help the beta cells recover and make enough insulin to control blood sugar levels. The vaccine may also help reduce future type 1 diabetes related complications.”
“It is a very exciting time for type 1 diabetes as we move from just treating the symptoms to actually trying to stop the disease,” Roep remarked in a recent press release.
What are your thoughts on this research? Would you participate in the trial?
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