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Type 1 diabetes vaccine possible “within a generation”

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A vaccine for Type 1 diabetes could be developed “within a generation”, say scientists who today announce over £4.4 million of new investment for research that will help make this a reality.

The new studies, which are being funded by Diabetes UK with support from Tesco (over £3.3 million) and co-funding from JDRF (over £1 million), could produce the first working vaccines within the next 10 years. As well as helping to delay or even prevent Type 1 diabetes in those at high risk, this will also be an important step towards a cure for the condition. It’s likely that the vaccine will also work in harmony with other treatments that reduce damage to insulin producing cells in the pancreas caused by the immune system.

First ever trial of a prototype vaccine 

A fully effective Type 1 vaccine would represent a significant leap forward in diabetes research. The research is being launched at Diabetes UK’s annual Professional Conference at London’s ExCeL centre. In the first of four new studies, Professor Mark Peakman at King’s College London will lead the UK’s first ever trial of a prototype vaccine in children and teenagers living with or at high risk of Type 1 diabetes.

At the same time, Professor Colin Dayan at Cardiff University will develop a UK-wide network to enable more Type 1 ‘immuno-therapy’ trials to take place in UK hospitals – and to train the young doctors and researchers who will lead them. In addition, Professor Desmond Johnston of Imperial College London will continue work to identify people newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes so that more people with the condition can be offered the important opportunity to take part in clinical trials. The money will also fund work by Dr Tim Tree, also at King’s College London, who will set up a UK-wide network of specialist laboratories to study the impact of immuno-therapy trials, investigating exactly how different treatments work to control the immune attack that causes Type 1 diabetes and working out if it is possible to predict who will benefit most from each treatment. 

"This research is hugely exciting"

Dr Alasdair Rankin, Diabetes UK’s Director of Research, said: “This research, which has been made possible thanks to funding from Tesco and additional support from JDRF, is hugely exciting because it has the potential to transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people living with Type 1 diabetes, as well as leading us towards a longed-for cure. 

“Today, Type 1 diabetes is an unavoidable condition with a huge impact on the lives of more than 300,000 people in the UK. Managing diabetes is a daily struggle and too many people develop devastating health complications or die before their time. These studies will take us a long way towards changing that – bringing us closer than ever to preventing and ultimately curing the condition. 

“None of this will be easy or happen overnight. The first vaccines will probably help people to delay the onset of Type 1 diabetes rather than preventing it entirely. But even this would help to reduce the risk of serious complications, such as stroke, blindness and heart attacks. In the longer term, a fully effective vaccine would represent a huge medical breakthrough and could transform the lives of people with Type 1 diabetes.”

Tesco’s decision to make Diabetes UK its National Charity Partner for 2013-14 led the supermarket’s colleagues and customers to raise £18.6 million, over £3.3 million of which is being used to fund the new research. To boost the impact of this funding still further, Diabetes UK is jointly funding two of the studies with Type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, who contributed over £1 million.

Decades of work by scientists has helped to identify key parts of the immune system that could be potential targets for a Type 1 immuno-therapy. Many of these have been the subject of clinical trials, which at first proved disappointing. However, an increased understanding of the immune attack that causes Type 1 has led to renewed hope that new therapies – or combinations of existing treatments – will have a much greater impact. 

"Within the ten years we hope to see the first vaccine therapies delivered to patients"

Professor Dayan said, “This funding has already led to a bold new collaboration between UK diabetes scientists and will provide an immense boost for this field as we work towards new clinical trials and a step change in our ability to halt the loss of insulin in Type 1 diabetes. Within a year or two we will see many more children and adults taking part in this research. Within four years we expect to see results from studies of more than six potential treatments, and within ten years we hope to see the first vaccine therapies delivered to patients in the clinic.

”Rebecca Shelley, Corporate Affairs Director for Tesco, said: “I would like to say a huge thank you to all the Tesco customers and colleagues who raised money for Diabetes UK – it is their hard work that has helped make this happen.”

Karen Addington, Chief Executive of JDRF in the UK, said: “We are thrilled to collaborate with Diabetes UK with support from Tesco on this important research. A child diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of five faces up to 19,000 injections and 50,000 finger pricks by the time they are 18. Our major search for a vaccine takes place within a global push, by some of the world’s very best scientists, to consign this life-threatening condition to history. The day will come when Type 1 diabetes can be both prevented and cured.”

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