Living with type 1 diabetes often means a life dominated by routines: careful monitoring of food intake, regular insulin injections and constant monitoring of blood sugar levels.
However, groundbreaking research from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) could herald a significant shift in how the disease is treated.
Researchers are exploring expanding two recently approved immunotherapy treatments to treat type 1 diabetes on a larger scale.
Cancer therapy to treat diabetes
At the UCSF Diabetes Center, researchers are closely studying how oncologists use chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy to reprogram the immune system to fight cancer.
“It turns out that the switches researchers are playing with in cancer are the same ones that are useful in diabetes,” says Mark Anderson, MD, Ph.D. and director of the UCSF Diabetes Center.
The idea is to use a similar approach to alter the immune system so that it no longer attacks the body’s insulin-producing cells, thereby stopping or delaying the onset of type 1 diabetes.
Collaboration across disciplines
The collaborative environment in UCSF’s new Parnassus Research and Academic Building aims to break down traditional academic silos.
There, researchers from different disciplines will work together to understand disease mechanisms at the cellular level. Anderson envisions a synergistic effort:
“Imagine someone is in a trial and given a cancer drug and it causes type 1 diabetes. Our lab will be right there and we can measure their immune cells to find out what’s happening.”
Groundbreaking drug: Teplizumab
Teplizumab, a drug approved by the FDA in late 2022, is designed to prevent the onset of type 1 diabetes by deactivating the immune cells that attack insulin-producing beta cells.
Current research is exploring its use not only in those at risk, but also in those recently diagnosed.
Stephen Gitelman, MD, is leading a multi-institutional study to investigate whether teplizumab can be used within two months of diagnosis to help preserve remaining insulin-producing cells.
“The participants are doing very well,” Gitelman reports, adding that this is the “end of the beginning” of type 1 diabetes research.
What still lies ahead of us
The approval of teplizumab is a milestone, but also opens up several new opportunities for research.
Researchers are considering its use in younger children as well as the possibility of combining it with other medications. Gitelman emphasizes: “It’s still early days and an exciting time.”
Research into immunotherapy treatments offers the opportunity to revolutionize the way type 1 diabetes is treated.
Although the journey is far from over, these advances represent important steps toward reducing daily burdens for those living with this chronic condition.
If you care about diabetes, please read Studies about new ways to remit type 2 diabetes and an avocado a day keeps diabetes at bay.
For more on diabetes, check out recent studies on 5 Dangerous Signs of Diabetes-Related Eye Disease and findings showing why pomegranate is a superfruit for people with diabetes.
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