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Inexpensive Tuberculosis Vaccine Could Reverse Type 1 Diabetes, Study Suggests

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New research out of Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that an inexpensive vaccine typically used to prevent tuberculosis could reverse type 1 diabetes.

The study, published in the journal NPJ Vaccines on June 21, showed that patients with type 1 diabetes who were treated with the vaccine called bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) saw significant improvements in blood sugar levels eight years after being treated. For their research, the scientists analyzed 282 adults. Out of these participants, 52 of them had long-standing type 1 diabetes. All participants received two shots of the BCG vaccine two weeks apart, and provided blood samples for long-term follow up. Results of the study eventually showed that those participants with type 1 diabetes demonstrated normal blood sugar levels comparable to their healthy counterparts at the end of the eight-year trial.

“It’s an important discovery for the basic science of diabetes care. And by the way, we have a cheap BCG vaccine that seems to be doing it,” said Denise Faustman MD, PhD, lead researcher and director of the Massachusetts General Hospital immunobiology lab in a press release.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the bodys’ immune system attacks the pancreas, preventing it from producing insulin. Through these trials, Faustman and her researchers have concluded that the BCG vaccine genetically manipulates white blood cells so that they process glucose, which makes up for the damage done to the pancreas — the mechanism which stabilizes blood sugar. The study showed that it took about three years before there were noticeable changes in blood sugar levels, but that as much as eight years later, those changes were proven sustainable. Faustman and other scientists agree that this is a major stepping stone in diabetes research and affordable, long-lasting treatment. She concluded, “This is clinical validation of the potential to stably lower blood sugars to near normal levels with a safe vaccine, even in patients with longstanding disease. In addition to the clinical outcomes, we now have a clear understanding of the mechanisms through which limited BCG vaccine doses can make permanent, beneficial changes to the immune system and lower blood sugars in type 1 diabetes."

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