Scientists have found that the commonly known BCG vaccine might be the answer to treating Type 1 Diabetes. But before getting into this research, let’s really understand the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, to see why reversing Type 1 isn’t that easy in the first place.
The Difference Between Type 1 & 2 Diabetes
Doctors tend to diagnose Type 1 diabetes in children and young adults, who total only five percent of people who have this disease. For Type 1 diabetics, their bodies produce little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone that balances your blood sugar level and allows your body to use or store glucose (sugar) for energy. Various insulin treatments help Type 1 diabetics manage their condition so that they can live longer, healthier lives.
Whereas Type 1 diabetes prevents insulin production, Type 2 diabetics’ bodies do not use insulin properly – they are insulin-resistant. Ninety-five percent of people comprise this form of the disease. For Type 2 diabetics, their bodies produce extra insulin to make up for the lack of it. However, over time they cannot produce enough insulin to balance out blood sugar levels, which is why those levels remain in a constant (and dangerous) state of flux.
Current Treatments for Type 1 Diabetes
Ideally, individuals with Type 1 diabetes should try to keep their blood sugar levels as balanced as possible to prevent or delay any health complications.
Type 1 diabetes treatments may include:
Frequent blood sugar monitoring
Eating healthy foods
Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight
Why is it so difficult to find a Type 1 diabetes cure?
Pancreatic islets are tiny clusters of cells that are scattered throughout the pancreas. These islets contain many types of cells – specifically beta cells, which produce insulin.
Past studies that involved Type 1 diabetics receiving islet transplants showed that after a period of time, the islets would disappear. Researchers have concluded that this is because Type 1 diabetes, for example, is an autoimmune disease for which no lasting cure currently exists.
Until researchers can understand the process of this disease and get rid of it, any treatment seems to just be temporary.
A Possible Cure for Type 1 Diabetes
In 2015, Time magazine reported that a vaccine for Type 1 diabetes was moving forward to its next bout of trials. Previous trials had succeeded in reversing Type 1 diabetes in mice and one-hundred-and-three humans. This is by no means a definitive sample size, but it does have huge implications for Type 1 diabetics. So, what is this vaccine?
The Potential Cure: Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG)
You may be familiar with BCG, a vaccine that French researchers developed in the nineteen-twenties to treat tuberculosis. The director of immunobiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Denise Faustman is leading the research which will ideally permanently reverse Type 1 diabetes.
But, what does a TB vaccine and bladder cancer treatment have to do with Type 1 diabetes?
Phase 1 Trial
Firstly, Faustman’s research revealed that BCG is safe for people with Type 1 diabetes.
But more significantly, BCG can temporarily eliminate ‘defective’ white blood cells that lead to Type 1 diabetes and briefly restore insulin production.
However, as mentioned earlier, the study’s sample size was far too small to come to any conclusions, which is why Phase 2 is so important.
Phase 2 Trial
Although the study is in its early stages of research and funding, the new trial is FDA-approved and underway. It will last five years and test the effects of BCG on one-hundred-fifty Type 1 diabetics between the ages of eighteen and sixty.
Ideally, BCG will improve the disease in those whose pancreases still produce minimal but existing levels of insulin, which they estimate to be around one million people.
Faustman and her team hope that BCG will lead to improved blood sugar control and determine more accurate doses for the vaccine to be most effective.
To determine this, the one-hundred-fifty people will be split into three groups. One will receive a placebo and the other two will get six BCG injections of varying amounts on different schedules. Based on the results over the next five, Faustman and her team will hopefully be able to know whether BCG worked.
Keep this in Mind
Although there may be people who are skeptical of this BCG treatment, there are many people who are excited and hopeful. However, Faustman and others’ studies are still in their trial stages!
BCG is available but it is not suggested that you take this disease entirely into your own hands. You should do your research, but please consult your family doctor or other medical practitioners if you have any questions about Type 1 diabetes or the BCG vaccine.