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An immunotherapy variety, currently recognized as a method in dealing with childhood food allergies, has displayed its ability in addressing Type 1 diabetes, a condition that has been plaguing children and young adults.
The small and rigorous clinical trial was the testing ground as British investigators administered a shortened version of the chemical that lifts up insulin to patients who were recently diagnosed with the disorder. Although there were signs that immunotherapy has slowed the disease, it will require larger trials for its confirmation.
The study's authors reported that immunotherapy has manifested signs that sustain a steady insulin production.
"Type 1 diabetes comes about when the immune system inadvertently and irreparably damages beta cells that make insulin," Dr. Mark Peakman, clinical immunology professor, King's College London, explained.
Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone that aids the distribution of sugar into the body's cells which will be utilized as energy. A person suffering from Type 1 diabetes will cease creating sufficient insulin to meet the body's needs should the immune system continues its assault against beta cells, which are located in the pancreas.
Peakman and his team are trying to prevent the attacks on the beta cells.
"We have learned that immune attacks like this can be suppressed by immune cells called T-regs (regulatory T cells)," he said.
Aleix Rowlandson, a Lancashire resident, was diagnosed with the disorder two years ago at age 18.
She narrates: "Your blood sugars affect how much energy you have. If they're high, they can make you feel tired. If they're low, you can feel shaky. I'm more optimistic knowing that the study has gone well and they can use that to find further treatments. Even if it doesn't help me...it might help other people in the future, I'm very happy."
With her condition, Aleix has to inject insulin numerous times on a daily basis.
She also participated in the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre's immunotherapy trials, which were aimed to stop her condition by tapping into the immune system's natural checks and balances.
The body's defense system is geared towards attacking hostile invaders, yet it also features "regulatory T cells" designed to calm the immune response and prevent it from attacking the body's own tissues.
Immunotherapies were designed to obtain regulatory T cells via exposure to protein fragments located in beta cells.
"This is a landmark in the sense that it's the first time it has been done. Importantly, [the trial] shows the overall safety is good and there is some evidence we're restoring the balance and getting some regulatory T cells activated," Peakman, who was also one of the authors, said.
Like food allergies, Type-1 diabetes is a disease where the immune system misidentifies a harmless or even necessary agent as a threat. The immune system's attack can trigger discomfort and danger via itching, swelling, or anaphylactic shock.
The Los Angeles Times reported that majority of the subjects are in their mid to late 20s. It also added that some 40,000 people get a new diagnosis of Type-1 diabetes annually in the United States. The said disease can overturn a life of carefree eating and decimate life expectancy by a decade. The disease, along with the celiac disease and lupus, has recorded a sharp rise with a yearly average of four percent in recent years.
Simi Ahmed, Senior Scientist, JDRF, said that autoantigens are the substances that trigger an autoimmune attack, yet it is uncertain about the factors behind a person's diabetes. In addition, Ahmed said that immunotherapy's objective is to re-educate the immune system by teaching the cells that they must not attack beta cells.
Peakman mentioned that in the experiment, researchers "used peptide immunotherapy as a way to try and induce more of these cells and/or make them work better. Our results show encouraging signs that this can be achieved. Next steps will be bigger trials to test whether the therapy can halt beta cell damage."