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Testing a Type 1 vaccine in young people

Project summary

Examining immunological effects of proinsulin peptide administration in children with, or at-risk of Type 1 diabetes

Researchers will study the safety and impact of an experimental ‘vaccine’ for Type 1 diabetes, looking at its effects in children and teenagers for the first time. A successful vaccine could benefit those who are newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and family members who are at high risk.

Background to research

White blood cells from the immune system usually help to protect the body from infection. Type 1 diabetes occurs when these cells mistakenly attack and destroy insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Current treatments for Type 1 don't address this problem, and suppressing the immune system as a whole can damage our immune defences and lead to harmful side effects.

Researchers at King’s College London are therefore testing a more targeted approach to help eliminate the Type 1 immune attack. They have discovered that a small protein fragment can help defend against this attack by triggering a protective immune response – just like a vaccine. They have already found this approach to be effective in animals and have proven its safety in over 70 adults with Type 1 diabetes. Children and teenagers who are at high risk of Type 1 diabetes, or in the early stages, could potentially benefit from this approach. However, the immune systems of younger people are different to those of adults so it is unclear if this would be safe and effective. 

Research aims

Professor Mark Peakman and colleagues across the UK will build on existing research into the effects of an experimental ‘vaccine’ for Type 1 diabetes, by studying its effects in children and teenagers for the first time. They aim to find out if this approach, is safe for young people and investigate its effects on the immune attack that causes Type 1. Young people who already have diabetes, and those who do not yet have it, but are at very high risk, will take part.

The treatment will involve an injection into the skin once every two weeks for six months, with follow up observations over another six months. The effects of the treatment will be compared with those of a placebo (an injection that does not contain the treatment). 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

A treatment that uses protein fragments to modify the immune system could provide a new way to control the immune attack that causes Type 1 diabetes. Although this approach is still at an early stage of development, an effective vaccine could protect the last remaining cells that make insulin in people newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes – leading to improved glucose control and a reduced risk of complications. It could also provide an important step towards delaying or preventing the condition in the family members of people with Type 1 diabetes, who are themselves at high risk.

This project is funded in partnership with Tesco and JDRF.
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