Diabetes is an autoimmune disease, the causes of which have not yet been well researched. According to statistics, France had more than 4.5 million diabetics in 2019. 10% of them have type 1 diabetes while the rest have type 2 diabetes.
In type 1 diabetes in particular, it manifests itself as an attack on the beta cells in the pancreas, which produce insulin by the immune system. In fact, insulin is a hormone that enables cells to take up glucose from the blood.
A problem that has always interested researchers
And because the body of diabetics no longer produces enough insulin, this substance has to be injected for life. However, the amount of insulin required depends on several individual factors that the doctor must determine in advance.
So diabetics can have high or low blood sugar. A frequently asked question in research on type 1 diabetes is whether the attack on the immune system can be slowed down or even stopped entirely.
“Studies have shown that even extremely low insulin production in the body is very beneficial for the health of the patient,” reports Dr. Johnny Ludvigsson, Senior Professor in the Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences at Linköping University in Sweden, the Daily Mail.
A protein as a vaccine
One possible strategy to counteract the effects of the disease is to modify the immune system by injecting a protein in the form of a vaccine. Glutamic acid decarboxylase is one of the well-known proteins against which the immune system often forms antibodies in type 1 diabetes. Ludvigsson and colleagues have been researching the possibility of vaccinating patients with this protein for many years. The results of their research were published in Diabetes Care magazine on May 21.
In collaboration with the pharmaceutical company Diamyd Medical AB, the team developed a vaccine based on GAD. As Live Science notes, the treatment is called GAD alum. For the clinical study, the researchers used 109 patients aged 12 to 24 years with type 1 diabetes.
Photo credit: Shutterstock / ANDRANIK HAKOBYAN
About half of them carried an HLA antigen called “HLA-DR3-DQ2”, which exposes the GAD65 protein to cells of the immune system. The team wanted to know if a vaccine that exposes the body to higher levels of GAD would allow the immune system to better tolerate the body’s natural GAD65, thereby stopping the destruction of insulin-producing cells.
The amount of natural insulin produced by the patients at the start of the study and after 15 months was evaluated. Note that these have been divided into two groups. Members of the first group received injections of the vaccine into their lymph nodes, while the other half received a placebo. Overall, there was no difference between the treated group and the placebo group. However, GAD alum had a positive effect on the subgroup of patients who had the DR3-DQ2 variant of the HLA genes. Better still, no treatment-related side effects were reported.
“Treatment with GAD alum appears to be a promising, easier, and safer way to maintain insulin production in about half of patients with type 1 diabetes – those with the correct HLA type. We are therefore eager to conduct larger studies and hope that they will lead to a drug that can change the course of type 1 diabetes, ”concluded Professor Ludvigsson.
Diabetes and daily nutrition: the basics / infographic: Amelie.fr