Stopping Type 1 Diabetes

The long-term effects of diabetes can be devastating--nerve damage, blindness, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease. But a radical new treatment may be able to halt the progression of one form of the disease. In a small study in The New England Journal of Medicine this year, Dr. Kevan Herold of Columbia University managed to retard progression of type 1 (juvenile) diabetes in a dozen newly diagnosed patients. What's more, he stopped it for an entire year with just two weeks of treatment.

The troublemaker in this form of diabetes is the body's immune system. Instead of attacking viruses and bacteria, it engages in a sort of misguided mission creep, destroying insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, too. This leads to a decline in insulin production and the inability to regulate blood sugar. But the experimental treatment uses a so-called monoclonal antibody to latch on to T cells in the immune system, preventing them from attacking the insulin-producing cells. Most intriguing, says immunologist Jeffrey Bluestone of the University of California, San Francisco, who engineered the antibody, the T cells then appear to regulate other T cells around them.

Bluestone hopes this will be just one of many new short-term treatments for auto-immune diseases like lupus. If so, one small study could be a glimmer of hope for millions.