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Vaccine Shows Promise Against Type 1 Diabetes

New York — An experimental vaccine designed to tamp down the abnormal immune response that causes Type 1 diabetes helped preserve patients’ insulin-producing cells in a study that may change the way the disease is treated.

Researchers from Stanford University in California and Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands created a vaccine that selectively targets the destructive immune cells and stops their attack. The data, from the second of three stages of tests generally needed for regulatory approval, were published yesterday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Type 1 diabetes is caused when the body’s immune system destroys insulin-releasing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells, requiring patients to inject themselves with insulin replacement therapy. Scientists have long sought a treatment approach that targets the cause of the disease.

“Although insulin saves people’s lives and was discovered 100 years ago, we need something better than that,” Lawrence Steinman, a professor at Stanford School of Medicine near Palo Alto, Calif., and an author of the study, said in a telephone interview. “One of the long sought-after goals of immunological therapy is to do just this, antigen-specific modulation.”

Type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes, affects as many as 3 million people in the U.S., according to JDRF, an organization that funds research for the disease. It’s less common than Type 2 diabetes, which develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or the pancreas stops producing enough insulin, and is linked to excess weight.

The compound, called TOL-3021, boosted the function of pancreatic beta cells and specifically reduced the killer immune cells implicit in Type 1 diabetes.

The trial was done in 80 patients ages 18 to 40 who had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes within 5 years. Patients were given an injection of the compound or placebo once a week for 12 weeks, and researchers looked at levels of C-peptide as a marker of the function of insulin-producing beta cells.

Patients taking a 1-milligram dose of TOL-3021 had their C-peptide levels rise 20 percent, compared with a decline of 8.8 percent for patients on placebo, the researchers reported. Immune cells known as T cells that directly targeted the pancreatic beta cells were shown to decline in patients taking the drug, while other T cells weren’t affected. The study turned up no serious side effects.