The next big vaccine — for the prevention of type 1 diabetes — may soon be coming down the pike, according to a new report.
Scientists from the University of Tampere in Finland announced that the first clinical trials in humans will begin with adult subjects in 2018, with additional trials scheduled for both adults and children.
“Already now it is known that the vaccine is effective and safe on mice. The developing process has now taken a significant leap forward as the next phase is to study the vaccine in humans,” said Heikki Hyoty, professor of Virology at the University of Tampere.
The vaccine centers around previous research that has identified a common type of virus, called an enterovirus, as a cause of type 1 diabetes. While the vaccine would not cure individuals who already are affected by the condition, if the human trials prove successful it would prevent the condition from developing in others.
Type 1 diabetes, which affects about 1.3 million American children and adults, occurs when the body fails to produce enough insulin and requires intensive monitoring to ensure safe blood-glucose levels.
“The aim is to develop a vaccine that could prevent a significant number of type 1 diabetes cases. Additionally, the vaccine would protect from infections caused by enteroviruses such as the common cold, myocarditis, meningitis and ear infections. However, in light of current research, the vaccine could not be used to cure existing diabetes,” said Hyoty.
Behind the Enterovirus Link
Researchers at the University of Tampere have studied the link between enteroviruses and diabetes for more than two decades. Ultimately, their research has discovered that these types of viruses can damage insulin-producing cells in a person’s pancreas, thereby resulting in organ damage and an ensuing case of diabetes.
In a landmark study published in 2015, Hyoty and fellow researchers came to a remarkable conclusion that overturned previously stalled disease analysis pertaining to type 1 diabetes.
“Despite intensive research efforts over the past century, the precise causes of type 1 diabetes are still unknown, although it is well established that the illness results from a complex interplay among genetic predisposition, the immune system and various environmental factors,” reported the authors in the journal Diabetes.
Previously, some hard-to-overcome obstacles had stood in the way of sensitive analysis.
“One of the principal factors limiting progress in the field has been the lack of availability of well-preserved tissue samples for study. The majority of published studies have made use of pancreatic tissues collected at autopsy from type 1 diabetic patients with varying durations of diabetes,” stated the authors.
Given the challenge of working with non-living organs, the researchers instead collected “pancreatic tissue from living subjects very soon after the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes to investigate the presence of viruses,” they report.
During their analysis, they found that “all six type 1 diabetic patients were positive for enterovirus in the endocrine pancreas” — a finding that steered them to the precipice of the first type 1 diabetes vaccine.
“These findings should encourage studies in which antiviral medication and/or vaccines against enteroviruses could be tested to reduce disease progression and prevent type 1 diabetes,” they reported at the time.
Soon the medical community will have real evidence showing whether their work is the next monumental development in disease prevention.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.