WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- A pioneering treatment that "retrains" the immune system, known as immunotherapy, has been found able to help slow the progression of type 1 diabetes, according to results of a clinical trial published Wednesday in the U.S. journal Science Translational Medicine.
Researchers leading the so-called MonoPepT1De trial at King's College London and Cardiff University observed "noticeable changes" in the behaviour of the immune systems of type 1 diabetes patients that had been injected with peptides, small fragments of the protein molecules found in the beta cells of the pancreas.
The researchers saw no evidence of toxic side effects or accelerated beta-cell destruction during the six-month trial period, nor during follow up for six additional months.
The trial recruited 27 people who were within 100 days of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Eight of them received a placebo and they all needed to increase their insulin use over the 12-month course of the study.
Type 1 diabetes develops when a patient's immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. Without treatment the number of beta cells will slowly decrease and the body will no longer be able to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
"When someone is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes they still typically have between 15 percent and 20 percent of their beta cells. We wanted to see if we could protect these remaining cells by retraining the immune system to stop attacking them," Professor Mark Peakman of King's College London, who led the trial, said in a statement. "We still have a long way to go, but these early results suggest we are heading in the right direction."
There is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes. The disease can affect major organs in the body, including the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys.