Tuberculosis Vaccine Possibly Reverse Diabetes
August 10, 2012

Researchers Study Potential For Tuberculosis Vaccine To Reverse Diabetes

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers recently discovered that a tuberculosis vaccine could decrease autoimmunity and boost insulin production in patients who have long-term Type 1 diabetes.

The vaccine has been utilized for the past 90 years and scientists believe that it could help eliminate the necessity of having insulin injections for patients with Type 1 diabetes.

With Type 1 diabetes, patients normally need to inject insulin on a daily basis so that they can better manage their blood sure as their bodies cannot produce enough of the hormone. The lack of insulin can lead to a dysfunctional immune system that ends up killing insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The vaccine, known as bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG), initiates production of the protein that eliminates insulin-attacking cells.

According to Bloomberg, insulin injections help 3 million people in the U.S. control Type 1 diabetes. Many are diagnosed with the disease at a young age. Currently, there is no cure for the disease but with BCG, two of the three patients in the clinical trial showed signs of boosted insulin production. With the findings, the scientists hope to have a larger study that could provide results within three to five years.

“We think this can be taken all the way to the market and that is what we are trying to do,” lead researcher Denise Faustman, director of Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital´s immunobiology laboratory, told Bloomberg.

The vaccine helps produce TNF, a cell-signaling protein that aids in cell death, and is a weakened version of the tuberculosis bacteria. The body can target more harmful immune cells with increased TNF. With these various abilities, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permitted the use of the vaccine to fight against tuberculosis and bladder cancer.

"We conclude that BCG treatment or EBV infection transiently modified the autoimmunity that underlies type 1 diabetes by stimulating the host innate immune response," Faustman and colleagues commented in a prepared statement.

In the experiment, researchers worked with three patients who were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Each participant was given two doses of the BCG vaccine and then required to complete a follow up 20 weeks after the initial visit. The scientists found that two of the three boosted the number of insulin-harming cells that were eliminated and also increased C-peptide levels, which demonstrated that there was a rise in the production of insulin.

“These patients have been told their pancreases were dead,” Faustman commented in a Bloomberg article. “We can take those people, give them a very low dose twice and see their pancreases kick in and start to make small amounts of insulin.”

In moving forward, the team of investigators hopes to sell the vaccine on the market. After their initial studies with mice, they worked to gain interest among a number of drug makers to develop the vaccine into a possible treatment for diabetes but many representatives from the drug companies were not interested. As a result, the researchers are working to raise money for larger human trails. For the next stage of testing, they have already received $11 million of the $25 million required.

Other researchers are also looking at the vaccine as a cure to other diseases. Scientists in Italy discovered that the vaccine could possibly stop the progression of brain lesions in patients who showed advanced stages of multiple sclerosis.