A team of researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital have announced groundbreaking new findings that could help individuals with type 1 diabetes.
They gave a small group of participants living with type 1 diabetes a vaccine that improved their overall blood sugar levels to nearly normal states. Most crucially, such improvements lasted five to eight years.
Their findings were published June 21 in the NPJ Vaccines journal.
A Vaccine For Type 1 Diabetes?
The researchers examined a total of 282 participants, 52 of whom had type 1 diabetes. They gave them a common vaccine for tuberculosis called bacillus Calmette-Guérin, or BCG, twice four weeks apart, and then studied them for about eight years following treatment.
They found that the participants' HbA1c levels, believed to be the most accurate indicator of blood sugar, receded by more than 10 percent after 3 years of monitoring — then 18 percent after four years. After five years, the levels reached near-normal figures and remained so for up to eight years.
For decades, the BCG vaccine has been used to prevent tuberculosis, but the researchers believe it could be used to treat other autoimmune disasters such as type 1 diabetes. The study in question is still ongoing, and so far over 120 people living with the condition have been given two doses of the BCG vaccine as treatment.
Participants report no complication and say they're doing better than the people in the trial given placebo or those serving as controls, the researchers say. That being said, everyone is still receiving ample treatment for their type 1 diabetes, but those who got the vaccines are using about one-third less the amount of insulin as they did prior, as STAT News notes.
Despite the encouraging results, however, the researchers aren't really sure why it takes several years before the vaccine kicks in. All lead study author Denise Faustman has is a guess:
"Diabetes didn't occur in a day, and maybe the reversal doesn't occur in a day."
Alongside the ongoing study, the researchers are also trying to find out why the BCG vaccine appears to be lowering blood sugar levels. It's been shown in mice studies that the vaccine can increase the number of T cells, which affect metabolism, allowing cells to move more sugar out of the blood.
Others are more critical of the findings, however. One endocrinologist thinks other factors may have contributed to lower blood sugar levels of the participants over the years, including sticking with a proper diet.
"This could be something that happened by chance because people were a bit more diligent or leaner or more compliant with diet."