Mice with type 1 diabetes have been successfully cured using a sophisticated nanotechnology-based "vaccine" by scientists at University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.
They have also slowed the onset of the disease in mice at risk for the disease.
The study, co-funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, provides new and important insights into understanding how to stop the immune attack that causes type 1 diabetes, and could even have implications for other autoimmune diseases.
It has been published in the online edition of the scientific journal Immunity.
The research was led by Dr. Pere Santamaria from the Julia McFarlane Diabetes Researchers Center at the University of Calgary, Alberta. The researchers were looking to specifically stop the autoimmune response that causes type 1 diabetes without damaging the immune cells that provide protection against infections - what is called an "antigen-specific" immunotherapy.
Type 1 diabetes is caused when certain white blood cells (called T cells) mistakenly attack and destroy the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
Antigen-specific immunotherapies, like Dr. Santamaria's work on nanovaccines, are a priority within JDRF's Immune Therapies program.
"Essentially there is an internal tug-of-war between aggressive T-cells that want to cause the disease and weaker T cells that want to stop it from occurring," said Dr. Santamaria, who is a JDRF Scholar - a research award to academic scientists taking innovative and creative approaches to better treating and curing type 1 diabetes and its complications.
The researchers developed a unique vaccine comprised of nanoparticles, which are thousands of times smaller than the size of a cell. These nanoparticles are coated with protein fragments - peptides - specific to type 1 diabetes that are bound to molecules (MHC molecules) that play a critical role in presenting peptides to T cells. The nanoparticle vaccine worked by expanding the number of peptide-specific regulatory T cells that suppressed the aggressive immune attack that destroys beta cells. The expanded peptide-specific regulatory cells shut down the autoimmune attack by preventing aggressive autoimmune cells from being stimulated by either the peptide contained in the vaccine or by any other type 1 diabetes autoantigen presented simultaneously on the same antigen presenting cell.