September 13, 2016 | by By Letisia Marquez
Imagine if type 1 diabetes patients could take a vaccine that cured them of the disease, releasing them from ever having to inject themselves with insulin again.
That might seem unrealistic. But for City of Hope’s Bart Roep, Ph.D., it’s closer to becoming a reality.
Roep, founding chair of City of Hope’s Department of Diabetes Immunology (within the Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute) and an internationally recognized immunologist, is leading a clinical trial at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in the Netherlands that just might lead to a cure for type 1 diabetes. (Roep previously worked at LUMC and joined City of Hope this past year.)
On Sept. 9, a patient at LUMC was injected with the trial's vaccine. To make the vaccine, the patient’s immune cells were taken from his blood. Vitamin D3 and a beta-cell protein were added, and the vaccine was given to the patient.
The vaccine’s goal is to spur the immune system to fight and possibly cure diabetes. Eight additional people at the university will also receive the vaccine.
"This is truly a breakthrough, and a radical new approach to some day finding a cure for diabetes,” said Roep, the Chan Soon-Shiong Shapiro Distinguished Chair in Diabetes. “Until now, we could only treat symptoms, but we now have the ability to tackle the root cause of this debilitating disease that affects approximately one in 200 people.
“Leiden University and City of Hope are helping to solve the puzzle of type 1 diabetes," he added.
Roep explained that type 1 diabetes results from a “mistake” of the immune system. Immune cells that normally protect humans from infections and cancer mistakenly attack the insulin-producing cells found in the pancreatic islets of Langerhans cells, leaving the patient dependent on insulin injections.
The vaccine is expected to “correct” the immune system by remodifying immune cells to do what they were originally supposed to do – protect your body.
The trial is expected to take 1.5 years to complete, and will test the vaccine’s feasibility and safety. Plans are developing for a larger, phase 2 trial to launch in the future at City of Hope.
In recent years, Roep has pioneered research into what causes type 1 diabetes. He discovered the targets of the immune system in insulin-producing cells.
One in three Americans will develop diabetes, mostly type 2 diabetes, but one in 10 develops type 1, Roep said. Diabetes is also a major cause of blindness, kidney failure and amputations.