Researchers claim they have found a way to isolate and eradicate T-cells that are responsible for wiping out insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas of people with Type 1 diabetes.
The scientists from Massachusetts general hospital are effectively proposing a counter-attack against T-cells. "Our studies in mice showed that we could selectively kill the defective autoimmune cells that were destroying insulin-producing islets," said Denise Faustman, director of the hospital's immunobiology laboratory and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard.
Faustman's team found that treatment with tumour necrosis factor (TNF), an immune system regulating protein, leads to the death of wayward T-cells while leaving other parts of the immune system unharmed.
Clinical trial underway
Scientists have successfully tried the technique on mice and tests have been carried out on the blood cells of humans to confirm its potential. A clinical trial started in March and will last 18 months. The new research, which involved T-cells from more than 1,000 people with Type 1 diabetes, other autoimmune disorders, and healthy volunteers, is reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Tony Doherty, Interim Director of Diabetes UK Scotland, said: "The positive news from this research is that there now appears to be an exciting new intervention which could halt the progress of Type 1 diabetes. Evidence is still required as to how long this is effective as a treatment in humans and we look forward to seeing the results of the next stage of trials. "The move to further clinical trials may identify key stages for screening patients, particularly children who are at higher risk of Type 1 diabetes as a result of genetic risk factors and previous childhood infections. This research may also extend the initial honeymoon period when effective treatments can be made."