Three million Americans are living with type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes. These patients need to inject themselves with insulin every day to stay alive. Now, for the first time, a promising therapy may stop the disease in its tracks.

Every second of every day, Spike Loy has to think about his blood sugar. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 7.

“My mom tested me for years,” Loy told Ivanhoe.

Now, he tests himself up to 10 times a day and has to worry about potential complications like nerve damage, blindness, and stroke. However, Stanford researchers are now studying a vaccine that could reverse the disease.

“We saw some very exciting outcome measures,” Larry Steinman, MD Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology, Stanford University, told Ivanhoe.

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system stops beta cells from making insulin. The vaccine uses DNA to attract and attack the bad cells that destroy insulin, while leaving the good beta cells alone.

“We bait the bad cells, kill them, and leave the beta cells in the pancreas to survive and function as insulin-producing cells,” Dr. Steinman said.

Researchers gave 80 patients the vaccine once a week for 12 weeks. Those who received it had more beta cells. It essentially reversed the effects of the disease, which could lower the risk of complications.

Spike says it’s a step closer to what he wants most, a cure.

Steinman says future studies of the vaccine will test whether patients can reduce or maybe even one day eliminate their daily insulin doses. There were no significant side effects observed in the study. To date, no DNA vaccine has ever been approved for human use. This could be the first one.

BACKGROUND:   Type 1 diabetes when the body is not producing enough insulin. This disease is commonly diagnosed to children and young adults, previously named juvenile diabetes. Type I diabetes involves constant pricking to measure blood sugar levels and continuously injecting yourself with insulin because the pancreas is not producing enough. There is no cure for type I or type II diabetes yet, but there are ways to keep healthy and stable. (Source: http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/type-1/)

SYMPTOMS:  Most symptoms for type I diabetes consists of:

·         Fatigue

·         Weight loss

·         Unusual hunger

·         Increased thirst and urinating often

TREATMENT: Because there is not a cure for diabetes, patients need to take insulin every day for the rest of their lives. Commonly, insulin is administered through a pump, needle or pen depending on the patient. A few ways that patients can help with type I diabetes is to maintain a healthy diet, exercise often and monitor blood sugar regularly. Doctors suggest that patients keep blood sugar levels between 80 and 120 before meals during the day and 100 and 140 before bed.

NEW TREATMENT: A new vaccine is being studied to potentially reverse type I diabetes with just a simple shot. This vaccine manipulates bad cells that ruin insulin with DNA while preserving the good cells in the pancreas. This will reduce or get rid of patients’ complications with the disease and will free individuals of injecting themselves with insulin. This treatment is still being researched and will be the first DNA vaccine on the market.  (Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_138189.html)

Larry Steinman, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology at Stanford University, talks about a possible vaccine for type 1 diabetes. 

So, we are talking about what used to be called juvenile diabetes. There’s really no cure for these people.  Is that correct?

Dr. Steinman: That’s correct. Over 100 years ago, researchers in Toronto made one of the most stunning discoveries in medicine, insulin. Insulin saves the lives of people who can’t make it. Since that huge discovery, there has not been further advance in turning off this disease. We have meters, nicer needles, and blood sticks to monitor; however, we don’t have a single therapy for the disease.

Is Juvenile Diabetes caused by lifestyle?

Dr. Steinman: Juvenile diabetes is in large part a genetic predisposition for the immune system to attack for reasons that were trying to understand. The only cell in the body that makes insulin is the beta cell in our pancreas. So, juvenile diabetes, or type I diabetes as we now call it, is not a lifestyle disease, but it can change your life. It is not the disease of the overeating obesity epidemic that sweeps the industrialized world.

Now, with good control we can get through most of the crises that are caused by type I diabetes, namely having either too high or too low blood sugar. The complications that can come 20, 30, 40, or 50 years down the road are still devastating. They include blindness, disease of your peripheral nerve so that your sensation goes away, stroke, eye disease, and blindness. Those are all the long-term complications. If we could do something to modulate the disease or even to cure it someday, then we wouldn’t have to face those downstream problems.

So, what are you looking at now? Is it manipulating DNA?