Can a Vaccine Reverse Type 1 Diabetes?

Big news for type 1 diabetes: a vaccine for tuberculosis may reverse type 1. This comes from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital who have been conducting a trial on a common TB vaccine for the past 8 years.

The study

The goal of the study was to see whether the vaccine could lower blood sugar levels permanently. The study followed 52 people who have lived with type 1 for an average of 19 years. Out of those, 6 had their blood glucose levels become totally normal over the first three years (blood glucose dropped 10%) and remained that way for the 5 years following (blood glucose dropped 18%) compared with the placebo group, whose blood glucose levels continued to rise.

Insulin was still required for these subjects, but about 1/3 less than was need before the vaccine.  In addition, their A1C was normal, preventing the many complications that come alongside having type 1.


The BCG vaccine

The vaccine, called the bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) tuberculosis vaccine, has been used for nearly 100 years to protect people against TB. The study subjects received two injections of the vaccine, four weeks apart.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the cells of the pancreas that make insulin. Insulin moves sugar to cells to be used as energy. People with type 1 need to take insulin injections daily throughout their life.

How does the vaccine reverse type 1 diabetes?

How does the vaccine work for diabetes? It stops the immune system from attacking the beta cells in the pancreas that create insulin, and also increases the rate by which the cells convert blood sugar into energy.

The study is currently undergoing another clinical trial to make sure the results can be replicated. Thus far, more than 120 people with type 1 have received the BCG vaccine. While some researchers are skeptical about the findings, others are very hopeful. Researchers believe the BCG vaccine could be used for other autoimmune diseases, an even type 2 diabetes as well.