Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body’s immune system turning against insulin producing cells in the pancreas (called ‘beta cells’). There is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes which can affect major organs in the body, including the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. Without insulin, the body cannot maintain normal blood sugar (blood glucose) levels. Treatment is usually a lifetime of insulin therapy, accompanied by lifestyle changes and managing the risk of the long term complications from diabetes.
However, there is some good news. Generally, at the time someone is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, not all of a person’s beta cells have been destroyed – between 15-40% remain healthy and can still make insulin. Importantly, even small amounts of naturally produced insulin can improve blood sugar control, make daily management of diabetes easier, and reduce the risk of long-term complications.
At King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals, we are currently looking into the possibility of slowing the progression of diabetes. Our approach involves giving injections under the skin of small fragments of the protein molecules found in the beta cells of the pancreas, called peptides. It is hoped that this treatment will re-train the immune system so that it stops recognising beta cells as a target for destruction. The current study is testing the safety of a vaccine we have designed along these lines, as well as its effects on the immune system. It is a mixture of several peptides from beta cells and is called “MultiPepT1De”. The study is the first time these particular peptides have been used in humans, and this is a necessary step in the development of this type of vaccine therapy. Other peptide mixtures have been used safely in other diseases. One of the single peptides in the MultiPepT1De mixture has been used safely in another study on volunteers with type 1 diabetes.
MultiPepT1de study has recently appeared on BBC News. Click on this link to watch the broadcast and read the article by Fergus Walsh.