Between 20 and 40 million people worldwide have to live with type 1 diabetes. In 2017, scientists developed a prototype vaccine that could prevent the metabolic disorder in children, and it is ready to begin clinical trials this year.
While it isn’t a cure, the vaccine is expected to provide immunity against a virus that has been found to trigger the body’s defences into attacking itself (autoimmunity), which could hopefully reduce the number of new diabetes cases each year.
Researchers from across the world have so far failed to understand why insulin-producing beta cells are firstly identified and then destroyed, which characterises the development of the condition.
However, it is possible that geneticists might be able to develop ‘ID tags’ known as human leukocyte markers, which can flag up the beta cells targeted in autoimmune responses.
Professor Heikki Hyöty, from the University of Tampere’s School of Medicine, has theorised one of the ways the process occurs, which involves an infection by a type of enterovirus. Enteroviruses are very dangerous, and are responsible for polio, myocarditis, hepatitis and meningitis, as well as hand, foot and mouth disease.
Hyöty says there is a link between this group of pathogens and diabetes, which others have suspected for a number of years, but it has taken a while to narrow down the prime suspects.
“Already now it is known that the vaccine is effective and safe on mice,” said Hyöty.
“The developing process has now taken a significant leap forward as the next phase is to study the vaccine in humans.”
Pre-clinical trials have already been done, and this year the vaccine will move on to testing on humans.
“Additionally, the vaccine would protect from infections caused by enteroviruses such as the common cold, myocarditis, meningitis and ear infections,” said Hyoty.
It might be another eight years before we see whether the vaccine does what it’s supposed to do, so don’t expect anything groundbreaking for a while.
Other research around the world in preventing and treating diabetes continues around the world, so we may have a cure or preventative medicine sooner than eight years, if we’re lucky.
The research was published in Vaccine.