How could we protect beta cells?

Posted on 11 October 2018

Hands administering an injection to someone else's arm

Researchers at the University of Oxford have completed an early trial of a new treatment to protect the insulin-producing beta cells in people living with type 1 diabetes.

The trial, named DILfrequency, was designed to work out how much and how often the new treatment should be taken.

The treatment works by boosting the numbers of “good”, protective immune cells, whilst keeping the numbers of “bad” immune cells that attack the beta cells at bay.

The work was partly funded by JDRF.

Why did they do this research?

If we could protect the beta cells, people diagnosed with type 1 would be able to keep producing their own insulin for longer. This would lead to better health outcomes and an improved quality of life.

Researchers around the world have been working on different approaches to slow or stop the immune attack on the beta cells.

Professor John Todd and his team in Oxford have been developing a treatment strategy based on a protein known as IL-2. The team designed this trial to work out how much and how often people should take the IL-2 treatment in order to increase the number of protective immune cells without increasing the number of destructive immune cells.

What did they do?

In the first part of the trial, 12 participants tested out six different treatment plans with different doses of IL-2 and injection frequencies.

The researchers analysed blood samples from the participants to see how well the different treatment plans worked. They used these results to produce a refined treatment plan, which another eight participants then trialled.

The team repeated this process for a further two sets of eight participants, to find the best treatment plan. At the end of the trial, the researchers found that the IL-2 treatment worked best at a specific dose when administered every three days.

What does this mean for type 1?

At this stage, the researchers were mainly looking at changes in the numbers of different immune cells as a result of the treatment. Future work will need to evaluate how well the IL-2 treatment can preserve insulin production in people recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

The researchers have indicated in their paper that they can now progress to testing the best IL-2 treatment plan in larger clinical trials over longer periods of time, to see if the treatment can protect beta cells and keep them producing insulin.

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