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Vaccine for Type 1 diabetes "could be available within 20 years"

A vaccine for Type 1 diabetes that could transform the lives of those at high risk of the condition could be available within the next 20 years, according to Diabetes UK.

Speaking following a summit meeting of leading experts, Dr Alasdair Rankin, Diabetes UK’s Director of Research, said that a vaccine for Type 1 diabetes is now a realistic prospect. This would represent the biggest single breakthrough in diabetes research since insulin was first successfully used to treat Type 1 diabetes 91 years ago.

Building on past research

Decades of work by scientists have identified a long list of different parts of the immune system that could be potential targets for treatment. Many of these have been tested in clinical trials, which initially disappointed the research community. However, after following these studies for a number of years, scientists have realised that treatments that fall short of preventing development of Type 1 diabetes altogether could still potentially reduce health complications if they give patients even a slightly longer period before they have to take insulin or allow them to continue to make small amounts of their own insulin.

Together with an increased understanding about how the immune system works in diabetes, there is real excitement about the potential for new approaches and combinations of existing treatments to make a much bigger difference.

National Charity Partnership

Tesco’s decision to make Diabetes UK its National Charity Partner – its employees and customers aim to raise £10 million – has enabled Diabetes UK to announce the biggest single research programme in the charity's history to look into a Type 1 vaccine. There is now real hope that a vaccine will be available within the next 20 years.

"Huge sense of excitement"

Dr Rankin said, "We tend to think of Type 1 diabetes as unavoidable, but there is a huge sense of excitement in the research community that the work being done today is building towards a future where Type 1 diabetes can be stopped in its tracks.

Early treatment

"This is not, of course, going to happen overnight. It is likely that the first vaccines we see will allow people to live longer before they develop Type 1 diabetes, rather than preventing it entirely. But we know that if people who do develop Type 1 diabetes are treated early with a vaccine then it could provide some benefits that make their condition easier to manage and improve their health in the long term.

"Difficulties to overcome"

"We would also expect treatments to get gradually better as we understand more about how the immune system works in people with Type 1 diabetes.

"While there will be difficulties to overcome, I am really hopeful that with the boost of the funding that has been made possible by our partnership with Tesco, within the next 20 years we will have a vaccine that can stop Type 1 diabetes developing.

Enormous benefit

"When you think that there are 300,000 people in the UK with Type 1 diabetes, and that all of them have the daily struggle of managing their condition and die up to 20 years younger than people without the condition, the benefit of a vaccine would be enormous. It has the potential to be one of the really big medical breakthroughs in the first half of the 21st century."

Exploring the latest research

The aim of this week’s summit meeting was to explore the latest research in diabetes vaccine development. The discussions at the summit will now be used to develop a call, inviting the leading researchers in this area to apply for funding for research that will move us towards being able to prevent Type 1 diabetes as quickly as possible. That call for proposals will be issued by the end of the year, with a decision on how the funds are allocated expected by next summer.

Generosity of colleagues and customers

Michael Kissman, Community Director at Tesco, said, "Working in this partnership, I’ve met many people coping with the difficulties this condition can bring. It is hugely exciting that through the generosity of our colleagues and customers, we can contribute to a possible future without Type 1 diabetes and also help all those who are currently living with diabetes in the UK."

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