Research at Massachusetts General Hospital looks increasingly like a long-term cure for type 1 diabetes, with a newly released study on Thursday showing patients have normal blood sugar levels eight years after a clinical trial.
In research published Thursday in journal npj Vaccines, patients who had been treated with the bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine — an inexpensive, generic vaccine used around the world to prevent tuberculosis — had normal blood sugar levels eight years after the trial ended.
While it took three years for patients to see results from the vaccine, two doses of the drug spaced four weeks apart were still having a lasting impact eight years later.
“It’s kind of big news,” said Dr. Denise Faustman, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital immunobiology laboratory and principal investigator of the trial. “It’s the first trial showing (long-term reversal of diabetes), and more trials are on the way. But scientifically it’s pretty cool.”
The recently published study also details how the vaccine genetically alters the body’s white blood cells so they process glucose, making up for the pancreas’ inability to produce insulin to do the same. In type 1 diabetes — referred to in the past as juvenile diabetes — the immune system damages the pancreas and blocks the cells from producing insulin.
“It’s not only the discovery that something cheap in new cohorts brings down blood sugar, but why. We’ve discovered new pathways for lowering blood sugar,” Faustman said. “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.”