Preserving Pancreatic Beta-Cell Function Without Full Immune System Suppression

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta-cells, thereby hampering the body’s ability to regulate blood glucose levels naturally. Some treatment efforts aimed at preserving beta-cell function rely on suppressing the immune system to prevent further destruction of cells or to protect transplanted cells.

recent study has found that a combination therapy may help protect the pancreas from attack by targeting only one part of the immune system. The therapy pairs anti-interleukin (IL)-21 antibodies with liraglutide, an FDA-approved diabetes drug. IL-21 receptors play a role in allowing T-cells into the pancreas, so the antibodies may help prevent this from occurring without impacting all T-cells within the body and affecting the entire immune system. In addition, liraglutide has been shown to protect beta-cell function, adding another layer of defense.

The combination therapy was tested adults with recent-onset type 1 diabetes in a “randomized, parallel-group, placebo-controlled, double-dummy, double-blind, phase 2 trial.” After 54-weeks of treatment, higher levels of endogenous insulin secretion were detected in patients who had received the combination therapy instead of the placebo, but effects decreased during the 26-week follow-up period. A phase 3 trial is necessary to study the long-term safety and efficacy of the treatment.

The Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is interested to see how future clinical trials progress and what this could mean for the treatment of recent-onset type 1 diabetes and the potential preservation of beta-cell function. Though not involved in this study, the DRC provides critical funding to early-career scientists pursuing novel research around type 1 diabetes. To learn more, visit https://diabetesresearchconnection.org

*The study mentioned in this article was done at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in the lab of  Professor Matthias von Herrath, M.D. (the man featured in the image above), who serves as vice president and senior medical officer, Global Chief Medical Office, at Novo Nordisk. Matthias is also a member of DRC’s 80-member Scientific Review Committee, a  volunteer 80+ group of diabetes experts from across the country.

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