A team of UK scientists is set to test a new vaccine that could represent a cure for type I diabetes, the most serious form of the condition which usually affects the under 40's.
The new vaccine, which has taken ten years to develop and has been successfully tested on mice, will now be tested on 72 diabetics patients at King's College London and Bristol University.
The vaccine involves injecting a protein, which stops the body destroying the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is the hormone needed to break down sugar in the normal way.
'It is very exciting that we are now taking this work forward in patients,' stated Mark Peakman of King's College London. 'The early trials will tell us whether the vaccine is safe. We will then proceed to look at its effect on patients who have just developed diabetes and see whether the process can be halted.'
'Following this,' added Professor Peakman, 'it would be logical to test the vaccine in individuals at risk of diabetes, to see whether prevention is possible.'
It can take up to five years after diabetes begins for the body to entirely stop producing insulin. During, this time the new treatment could be effective. Long-term sufferers, however, would not benefit.
Worldwide this disease affects five million people and has increased four-fold among the under-fives in the past two decades. Scientists have warned, however, that the research is still in its early stage and that it might be five to ten years before a human form of the vaccine is on the market.
'A hundred years ago Type 1 diabetes was a death sentence,' said Georgina Slack, head of research at Diabetes UK, which is funding the research. 'We've come a long way in terms of managing the condition. Now we're seeing new approaches in research emerge which are improving the chances of providing a cure. There is no doubt that any breakthroughs would have a huge impact on the treatment of people with diabetes. The prospect of finding a way of stopping the body from attacking itself and causing Type 1 diabetes is the holy grail of diabetes research,' concluded Ms Slack.