Diabetes vaccine trials to begin
A vaccine that could cure Type 1 diabetes is to be tested on people for the first time.
King's College London and Bristol University have recruited 72 diabetic patients for the trials in late Spring.
The vaccine works by stopping the destruction of pancreas cells that produce insulin, which is needed to break down sugar in the normal way.
If successful, they will recruit more volunteers with the help of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
People with Type 1 diabetes tend to develop the condition before the age of 40 and have to inject themselves with the hormone insulin every day.
Without these injections their blood sugar would become dangerously high and they would die.
Scientists have long been looking for a way to cure the condition.
Although the exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is unknown, the body's defence system is thought to be involved, mounting an abnormal attack on its own cells.
The two UK teams believe they have found a way to prevent this self-destruction.
The vaccine contains a protein that encourages the production of protective immune cells to defend the cells in the pancreas against attack.
After successful results in mice, the UK researchers are now ready to test their vaccine in humans.
These initial trials will check that the vaccine is safe.
The researchers then hope to be able to stop early diabetes in its tracks and, eventually, prevent the disease before it begins. But this will take five to 10 years.
One of the team leaders, Dr Colin Dayan from the University of Bristol, said: "It will be of help for people who have just been diagnosed. It might stop their insulin-producing cells from deteriorating further.
"Then, if it proves to be very safe, we would think about using it in people who are at high risk of developing Type 1 diabetes."
Co-researcher Professor Mark Peakman, from Kings College London, said several treatment approaches might need to be combined to combat such a complex disease as diabetes.
Other scientists are looking at using stem cells and organ transplants to restore insulin production by the body.
Professor Peakman said: "This is a disease which affects perhaps one in 200 individuals in the UK but is on the increase, particularly in children.
"It's a disease that we need to get on top of."
Georgina Slack, head of research at Diabetes UK, said: "A hundred years ago, Type 1 diabetes was a death sentence.
"We have come a long way in terms of managing the condition.
"Now we are seeing new approaches in research emerge which are improving the chances of providing a cure.
"There is no doubt that any breakthroughs would have a huge impact on the treatment of people with diabetes."
The vaccine trial is jointly funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International and the Diabetes Vaccine Development Centre in Melbourne, Australia.
Source: BBC News