New diabetes treatment could be ‘game-changer’

A new form of treatment for Type 1 Diabetes that uses a patient’s own cells to fight the disease is being hailed as a potential “game-changer” after an early trial suggests that it’s safe for patients.

A research team headed by University of California San Francisco scientists recently put the treatment through its first U.S. safety trial and said patients reported no serious side effects.

That’s cleared the way for more tests, but there’s a way to go before the method is mainstream. Researchers still need to determine how effective the new form of treatment is against Type 1 Diabetes, an immune disease in which human bodies attack the cells that produce insulin.

While many traditional treatment methods go after the immune system, the researchers wrote in a news release that may increase the odds of a person developing an infection or even cancer.

The method being studied involves removing less than two cups of blood from a patient’s body to find certain kinds of cells called regulatory T cells, or Tregs. Scientists sort the Tregs and place them in a growth medium to boost their numbers, then inject them back into the patient’s body.

The goal is for those enriched Tregs to help bodies battle the attacks on insulin-producing cells while still keeping their immune systems fit enough to hold off other diseases and infections.’

The researchers said in the news release that all the signs to date have been encouraging, and that all of the 14 patients tolerated the Treg treatment well. The next step is a Phase 2 trial, another step toward confirming the treatment is actually beneficial for patients with the disease.

“This could be a game-changer,” UC San Francisco researcher Jeffrey A. Bluestone said in the news release. “For type 1 diabetes, we’ve traditionally given immunosuppressive drugs, but this trial gives us a new way forward. By using Tregs to ‘re-educate’ the immune system, we may be able to really change the course of this disease.”

About 1.25 million Americans have Type 1 Diabetes, the American Diabetes Association says.

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