However, the Canadian researchers discovered that the body doesn't just allow the autoimmune aggression to go unchecked. There is a counter-mechanism that produces immune system cells to try to fight the rogue immune cells that are creating the damage in type 1 diabetes.
But these cells -- know as memory-like autoregulatory T cells -- aren't as strong as the rogue cells and so they quickly become overwhelmed.
Using a "nanotechnology-based" vaccine, the researchers were able to boost the effects of the weaker immune cells, which allowed them to stop the damaging immune cells from attacking. The vaccine consists of nanoparticles -- spheres thousands of times smaller than a single cell of the body -- "coated" with antigens that bind to molecules used to stimulate certain T cells.
"With this nanovaccine, we engage the weak immune cells and make them multiply and divide, and then they can counter the autoimmune response without impairing systemic immunity," said Santamaria.
Instead of directly attacking the stronger cells, the autoregulatory T cells turn off the signal that tells the stronger immune cells to attack, effectively stopping the destruction of the beta cells.
Santamaria said it's not clear yet if this vaccine would be a one-time treatment, or would need to be administered periodically. He said it's likely additional treatment might be necessary.
Santamaria said the next step in his work is to produce the drug in a version that can be used in clinical trials on humans.
Teodora Staeva, director of Immune Therapies for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, called the new research "a very novel therapeutic approach that seems to have great potential."
"A lot of work remains to be done. This therapy has the promise of being safer -- although that has to be proven in toxicology studi
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