A new study, published online April 8 by Cell Press in the journal Immunity, describes a therapeutic "nanovaccine" that successfully reverses diabetes in a mouse model of the disease.
In addition to providing new insight into diabetes, the research also reveals an aspect of the pathogenesis of the autoimmune response that may provide a therapeutic strategy for multiple autoimmune disorders.
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic autoimmune disease that results from destruction of insulin-producing pancreatic cells by certain white blood cells, called T cells.
"Unfortunately, eliminating the rather extensive repertoire of harmful T cells that attack the pancreas cannot currently be done without also eliminating T cells that protect us from infections and cancer," said Dr. Pere Santamaria, from the Julia McFarlane Diabetes Research Centre at the University of Calgary in Alberta.
"Essentially, there is an internal tug-of-war between aggressive T- cells that want to cause the disease and weaker T cells that want to stop it from occurring," Santamaria said.
The researchers also developed a nanotechnology-based "vaccine" that selectively boosted the weak white blood T cells, enabling them to effectively counter the damage caused by their overactive T cell relatives.
Using a mouse model of T1D, the researchers discovered that their nanovaccine blunted T1D progression in prediabetic mice and restored normal blood sugar in diabetic mice.
He said that if nanovaccines work against diabetes they might also fight chronic autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and others.