There are 29.1 million people in the United States who have diabetes. That’s a staggering number. To put that in perspective, there are almost as many people in the U.S. who have diabetes as those who live in Canada. That’s right. You could take every single person in the U.S with diabetes and they could populate an entire nation. A smaller, yet still significant number is how many people have Type 1 Diabetes. And that number is 3 million. Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) affects children and adults and currently, there is no prevention or cure. In order to manage T1D, people with the condition must constantly monitor their blood glucose levels. They manage these levels through insulin injection, activity, and diet. This is the only way to avoid life-threatening complications
There has been a theory that T1D could be related to a viral infection. And this idea has led some to propose the possibility of creating a vaccine for the disease. If this is the case, it would be huge in the medical field. In Finland, researchers have been exploring this connection and potential vaccine for approximately 25 years now. After such a long, laborious scientific journey, these researchers believe they have found the viral group that can trigger T1D. Their hard work has paid off, as the team has created a prototype vaccine which will move into human clinical trials in 2018.
This isn’t a cure, and it won’t eliminate the disease altogether. But the vaccine is expected to provide immunity against a virus that has been found to trigger the body’s defenses into attacking itself, potentially reducing the number of new diabetes cases each year. T1D tends to affect people earlier in life and is considered worse as it decreases the body’s ability to produce insulin. This is used by the body’s cells in order to absorb glucose out of the blood. The loss of insulin results in pancreatic tissue being destroyed by the body’s own immune system. This often happens within the first few years of life.
It’s unknown why the body identifies the pancreatic tissue as being foreign. The entire idea is complex, and there are a number of ways that this process can be triggered. The fact that it’s extremely complex, makes this whole idea of a vaccine so much more incredible. While T1D is the less prevalent of the two types of diabetes, a vaccine could help a lot of people and potentially lead to other medical breakthroughs in this area.
Like I said, it’s unlikely that the vaccine would become an immediate cure-all for T1D. But if the trials prove to be successful, it will dramatically shift the future of the disease. Up until now, patients with T1D have been required to vigilantly self-manage. Complications of the disease, which can result if the disease is undiagnosed or mismanaged, can range from heart attacks to stroke, to amputations, and even blindness. The threat of these complications constantly hangs over the heads of those with T1D. If these trials are successful, it would help to prevent the condition and could change the lives of millions of people around the world.