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Type 1 diabetes vaccine could be on the way as Catalan researchers take a step forward

Researchers at the Hospital Germans Trias in Badalona (Greater Barcelona) have taken an important step toward creating a vaccine for Type 1 diabetes, which currently has no cure. The discovery, published in the scientific journal 'Plos One', consists of the preparation of nanoparticles in the laboratory that, once introduced into the body, slow down the destruction of beta cells (whose primary function is to store and release insulin). With Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks these insulin-producing cells located in the pancreas and destroys them. Currently, to combat the disease, patients must take insulin injections. In recent years, Catalonia has become a global hub for biomedical investigation, developing cutting-edge research initiatives and participating in leading international projects. With just 0.1% of the world’s population, Catalonia accounts for nearly 1% of global scientific production and attracts 2.2% of European competitive funds and 3.5% of European Research Council (ERC) grants.

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04 June 2015 09:36 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).-Researchers at the Hospital Germans Trias in Badalona (Greater Barcelona) have taken an important step toward creating a vaccine for Type 1 diabetes, which currently has no cure. The discovery, published in the scientific journal 'Plos One', consists of the preparation of nanoparticles in the laboratory that, once introduced into the body, slow down the destruction of beta cells (whose primary function is to store and release insulin). With Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks these insulin-producing cells located in the pancreas and destroys them. This attack is known as "autoimmune" disease. Currently, to combat the disease, patients must prick their finger several times a day to check blood sugar levels and take insulin injections. In recent years, Catalonia has become a global hub for biomedical investigation, developing cutting-edge research initiatives and participating in leading international projects. With just 0.1% of the world’s population, this Autonomous Community accounts for nearly 1% of global scientific production and attracts 2.2% of European competitive funds and 3.5% of European Research Council (ERC) grants.


The recent discovery made by the Immunology of Diabetes Research Group at the Germans Trias Research Institute represents an important step of an investigation which started years ago.

Initially, they discovered that the destruction of the insulin-producing pancreatic cells (called beta cells) in the body could be avoided by modifying some of the individual’s immune cells, known as dendritic cells. This operation requires the extraction of the subjects' dendritic cells for later manipulation and re-injection. However, this process was not only complex but also costly.

Using nanoparticles created in the laboratory is more likely to lead to a vaccine

In a new study with mice, researchers have achieved the same effect with a much simpler process and through a system which is more likely to lead to a vaccine for human beings. In detail, nanoparticles called liposomes are created in the laboratory and then introduced into the body, stopping the destruction of the beta cells and avoiding the development of Type 1 diabetes. The invention is commercially protected and an international patent has been applied for.

Liposomes have already been used as a medical treatment on several occasions and can be generated through a highly specialised process which not only is simple and secure but also has large-scale production capabilities.

According to the foundation's press release, the liposomes created for this collaborative work are from half a micron to one micron in diameter. They were specifically generated to imitate beta cells of the pancreas that are in the process of dying; in this way, the body is prevented from destroying the beta cells and can recuperate immunological tolerance.

The Catalan researchers are the first group in the world to use liposomes that imitate naturally dying cells to fight against diabetes. For the study led by the Germans Trias team, researchers worked with the Catalan Institute for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2), a Severo Ochoa Centre of Research Excellence located on the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) campus. Researchers from the University of Barcelona (UB) and the University of Lleida (UdL) also collaborated on the project

Testing the liposomes in human cells in vitro is among the researcher's next steps

The next steps are to test it in human cells in vitro, to start clinical trials on human candidates for preventive vaccination and to cure the disease by combining the vaccine with regenerative therapies. The Germans Trias Institute plans to carry out these steps with patients at the hospital and to optimise the product for personalisation.

Type 1 diabetes is an illness where the body does not recognise the beta cells of the pancreas as its own and destroys them. The organ produces less and less insulin, the hormone that allows us to process the sugar we eat and which is fundamental in providing cells with energy.

The causes of the disease are unknown, although there are both genetic and environmental factors involved. About 0.3% of the population is affected and the incidence is increasing by 3-4% a year. It usually appears in children and young adults and it is incurable. This immunotherapy presents a possible solution for Type 1 diabetes.

The Head of the Immunology of Diabetes Group, Marta Vives Pi, said that patients with this type of diabetes develop "secondary complications in the long-term and this disease must be approached from different point views: immunologic, metabolic and related to the future regeneration of beta cells". "Simplifying therapies and making them as personalised as possible is very important," she said.

Postdoctoral Researcher from the Immunology of Diabetes Group and lead author of the article published in 'Plos One' Irma Pujol Altonell, says the discovery is "an important step and a sign that research is progressing ". However, "work remains to be done in order to guarantee a future clinical application", she stresses.

"First of all, we are working on prevention. At the moment, we are able to slow down the progression of the disease and one of the following steps should be trying to reverse it in diabetic mice", Pujol says. "We are also starting to work with human cells with the future prospective of starting clinical trials. However, there is still a long way to go", she warns.

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  • Irma Pujol (right), who has led the research, and Sílvia Rodríguez (left) this week in their lab (by ACN)

  • Irma Pujol (right), who has led the research, and Sílvia Rodríguez (left) this week in their lab (by ACN)