New Technology offers hope, but it is always expensive, so will we be able to afford the Californian treatment for Diabetes? the real question should be “what will be do without?” or “What should the average citizen fund for themselves?” – overt exclusions and rationing…
The daily trial of insulin injections could soon be over for hundreds of thousands of people with type-1 diabetes after a study suggested that a new immune treatment was safe.
More than 300,000 people in Britain are thought to have the condition, which is often diagnosed in adolescence or early adulthood and leaves patients struggling to regulate their blood sugar.
Scientists in California have developed a method of cultivating billions of immune cells that protect the body’s production of insulin, a key hormone in the blood sugar cycle. These cells can be safely infused back into patients and restore insulin function for at least a year, according to research findings.
In type-1 diabetes, the immune system turns on the part of the pancreas that makes insulin. Most current therapies use drugs to reduce the immune response but this leaves the body susceptible to infection. A team of researchers led by the University of California, San Francisco, has worked out how to use T-regulatory immune cells, known colloquially as Tregs, to moderate the attack on the pancreas.
Jeffrey Bluestone, who played a leading role in the research, said the breakthrough could be a “game-changer”. “For type-1 diabetes, we’ve traditionally given immunosuppressive drugs, but this trial gives us a new way forward,” he said. “By using Tregs to re-educate the immune system, we may be able to change the course of this disease.”
Writing in the journal Science Translational Medicine, Professor Bluestone and colleagues said the first clinical trial of the treatment, involving 14 people, had been a success, with no serious complications. It is now expected to be tested on a greater number of patients.
The therapy, first described six years ago, involves taking just under a pint of blood from the patient and separating out between 2 and 4 million Tregs using fluorescence. The cells are then multiplied 1,500-fold in a test tube and restored to the bloodstream, where they appear to survive for months. Up to a quarter of the new Tregs were still circulating a year after the infusion.
A similar sorting and cultivating technique could be used to handle other autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and may even prove to be a valuable weapon against cardiovascular disease and obesity. “Using a patient’s own cells — identifying them, isolating them, expanding them, and infusing them back — is an exciting new pillar for drug development,” Professor Bluestone said.
One of the patients in the trial, Mary Rooney, 39, had been diagnosed with diabetes four years earlier and said she had felt no side-effects from the therapy.
“The work of Professor Bluestone and his team offers new hope for people with type-1 diabetes,” she said. “The Treg intervention aims to prevent the development and progression of type-1 diabetes, freeing people like me from the daily grind of insulin therapy and lifelong fear of complications.”