New Research Seeks to Head off Diabetes

Article excerpt

Byline: Lauran Neergaard Associated Press

PITTSBURGH u The doctor had barely pulled away the needle when a blister appeared on Tracey Berg-FultonAEs abdomen: An experimental shot was revving up the 24-year-oldAEs immune system u part of a bold quest to create a vaccinelike therapy for diabetes.

"If weAEre right, that is whatAEs going to stop type 1 diabetes," said Dr. David Finegold as he watched the blisters appear u one to match each of four shots u with satisfaction.

ItAEs a big "if." The research is in its infancy, an experiment to be sure the vaccine approach is safe before researchers at ChildrenAEs Hospital of Pittsburgh test their real target u kids newly diagnosed with this deadliest form of diabetes.

ItAEs also part of a big shift: Scientists increasingly hope to control type 1 diabetes by curbing the rogue immune cells that cause it, before patients become completely dependent on daily insulin injections to survive.

"Treating at onset in children is the best chance we have," said Pittsburgh immunologist Dr. Massimo Trucco, whose novel vaccine u made from patientsAE own blood u is among a handful of possible immune therapies being tested around the country.

About 3 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, where the body mistakenly attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, the hormone crucial to converting blood sugar to energy. ItAEs different from the more common type 2 diabetes that is usually linked to obesity, where the body produces insulin but gradually loses the ability to use it properly.

Type 2 patients have more treatment options, including diet and exercise.

To stay alive, type 1 patients must rigorously inject insulin, or wear a pump that infuses it.

"It bothers me all the people who say, aeCanAEt you just exercise and get rid of it?AE" said Berg-Fulton of Millvale, Pa., who was diagnosed just before her 10th birthday. "Type 2 gets all the attention. This is type 1 u we die from this."

Hence the new push for immune therapy. Preserve enough precious insulin-producing cells before irreversible damage is done and maybe patients would need far less insulin, perhaps only occasional injections like when they splurge on ice cream.

But how? A "therapeutic vaccine" must shut down T cells that are the immune systemAEs attack dogs, racing out to tackle infections or other invaders u but only the faulty ones that erroneously attack a type 1 diabeticAEs own pancreas. …