This week, Conor McKeever (our Research Communication Officer) is reporting from the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) conference in Vienna. Each day he'll be reporting on the things he's found interesting and exciting from Europe's biggest meeting of diabetes researchers.
Although things were winding down in Vienna, Friday was definitely a case of last but not least for type 1 research. Potential cures were at the forefront of the day’s lectures, with a particular focus on encapsulation and immune therapies – two big areas in which JDRF is investing.
Stanley Lasch, from the Goethe University Hospital in Frankfurt, announced the results from a study that combined two immune system treatments to make one more effective therapy. Current research into anti-CD3 drugs (which target the immune system T cells involved in type 1) has found that they can help reduce a person’s need for insulin, but that the effect wears off fairly soon after, allowing the T cells to return. Lasch’s team looked at adding a second drug that they believe can prevent T cells getting back into the pancreas after the anti-CD3 drug wears off.
Overall, 65% of the mice given the two drugs did not require insulin after six months; in contrast, 47% of the mice given anti-CD3 drugs alone did not require insulin after this time. Although research is needed to see if the effect can be replicated in humans, it’s an exciting step forward for a treatment that’s already receiving a lot of interest.
Dr Gerlies Treiber, of the Medical University of Graz, was also enthusiastic about a possible immune therapy for type 1. She has been investigating the effects of vitamin D on the immune system, as low vitamin D levels are one of the factors being studied as a potential contributor to type 1 risk. She found that giving vitamin D supplements to people who were newly-diagnosed with type 1 seemed to increase the activity (though not the number) of their regulatory T cells – the cells that are meant to stop the immune system attacking the body. Given that this defence appears to fail in type 1, increasing the strength or number of regulatory T cells is one aim of our cure research.
On the encapsulation side of things, Dr Evi Motté from the Diabetes Research Center in Brussels has been studying the effectiveness of the cells used in ViaCyte’s macro-encapsulation device. We recently announced how the company, which has received JDRF funding, now has approval to test their device in humans, so it was particularly pleasing to hear that other researchers are testing the cells ViaCyte use.
Motté found that the macro-encapsulated cells were able to secrete a much higher level of insulin than cells implanted using more traditional micro-encapsulation techniques. Levels were more similar to the levels found in non-protected transplanted cells, but non-protected cells are still vulnerable to attack from the immune system, so fail more quickly.
On the whole, the last day of the conference showed there is a lot of hope for cure research. Immune therapies and encapsulation work is coming on apace, and it’s really encouraging to see that researchers from around the world are getting behind the same work that JDRF is supporting. In fact, I’d say the same was true of the week as a whole – there’s so much tremendous research going on and there was barely a session that didn’t have JDRF-supported work somewhere in it. It’ll be great to see where the research goes from here, and I’m excited to see what will be announced at next year’s conference in Stockholm.
Photo: Vienna by Flickr user Miroslav Petrasko, used under a Creative Commons licence.