New Research Applies the Brakes to Type 1 Diabetes

A prevention study involving diabetes researchers and volunteers at Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) showed a drug that targets the immune system — Teplizumab — can delay type 1 diabetes up to three years in children and adults at high risk.

“This is great news for relatives of people with type 1 diabetes, who are at 15 times greater risk of the disease than the general population,” said Carla Greenbaum, MD, director of Interventional Immunology and the Diabetes Research Program at BRI.

Samples collected during the trial are being studied to help researchers understand why certain people responded to the drug better than others. Next, TrialNet researchers hope to conduct additional studies to look for ways to extend the benefits of the drug.

New Insight into Disease Progression
BRI Alice Long

BRI researcher Alice Long, PhD

When some people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the disease progresses so quickly that their pancreas stops making insulin within a year. For others, the process is slower and their disease easier to manage. BRI research revealed that it’s possible to identify the “fast progressors” early and match them with treatments that help keep them healthy for longer.

BRI’s Alice Long, PhD, and her colleagues made the discovery that opened the door to potential new treatment strategies for type 1 diabetes. In a paper published in Journal of Clinical Investigation, the researchers identified important differences between fast progressors and people whose disease progresses much more slowly. Dr. Long’s team showed that slow progressors have higher levels of exhausted CD8 T cells — cells that are worn out from attacking the pancreas. The discovery could lead to a test that identifies how quickly individual patients will lose their ability to make insulin.

“Doctors may be able to give ‘fast progressors’ a therapy that’s going to slow down the attacker cells or maybe even stop them,” said Dr. Long, a BRI principal investigator. “For this group of people with type 1 diabetes, that would prolong their ability to make insulin, which makes their lives much easier and significantly reduces their long-term health risks.”


A version of this story originally appeared in the Virginia Mason Health System Annual Report. 

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