Australian doctors believe they have found the key to eradicating the type of diabetes that obliges sufferers to regulate their blood glucose levels every day of their lives, news reports say.
"We're really excited about this because there are no treatments for type 1 diabetes," Garvan Institute researcher Shane Grey told The Sydney Morning Herald.
"The only therapy we have is daily insulin injections, and they don't regulate glucose levels anywhere near as effectively as the body does itself," Grey said. "Most diabetics have blood sugar levels which are usually too high or too low, and over a period of time, this damages vital organs."
Type 1 diabetes can bring on heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, blindness and peripheral vascular disease. The genetic fault is present from birth but might not develop until adulthood.
Without daily insulin injections, diabetics can lapse into a potentially fatal coma.
Grey and other researchers at the Sydney institute found a compound that had already been tested in humans with other auto-immune diseases that could block the cells that trigger type 1 diabetes.
"All immune cells talk to each other with various hormones, ... and we've found this drug is an inhibitor of one of those hormones," Grey said. "We've hit the nerve centre of the emerging clinical disease."
The therapy had a 100% success rate in the mice used in laboratory trials.
Too good to be true
"It does sound too good to be true," Grey said. "They all received 100-per-cent lifelong protection."
In their research, to be published in the journal Diabetes, the scientists injected the compound over six weeks into mice that had a 70-to 90%susceptibility of getting the disease.
Grey foreshadowed that those predisposed to type 1 diabetes - people with an affected parent or sibling - receiving vaccinations over a four-week period that should offer immunity.
"Even if it delays the onset of the disease by 10 years, it's still an amazing achievement," he said.
The potential breakthrough - clinical trials won't begin for about two years - was welcomed by Diabetes Australia.
Spokesman Neville Howard described the Garvan work as "an exciting step in diabetes research" that "may well lead to the prevention of type 1 diabetes."
The more common form of diabetes is type 2, which is late-onset and often brought on by lifestyle factors like a poor diet, being overweight and a lack of exercise. – (Sapa-dpa, April 2009)