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Doctors trial diabetes type 1 vaccine Australia

6 Jun 2004
Sophie Scott
Medical News Today

Australian doctors are close to perfecting a vaccine which could prevent children from developing type one diabetes.

Children with a close relative with diabetes are being given insulin which they inhale to stop themselves developing the illness.

Even though she is not a diabetic, 14-year-old Heather Aitken takes a regular dose of insulin.

Her mother has type one or insulin dependent diabetes.

And tests on Heather have shown the first signs of the disease in her blood, putting her at high risk.

"I wanted to take part in this trial to have a bigger chance of not getting diabetes," Heather said.

But instead of injecting the substance, doctors at Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) are giving children such as Heather inhaled insulin.

Initial trials have shown that inhaling the substance is even more powerful than injections in stopping the body's attack on itself, which leads to diabetes.

"The people we have given the insulin to have demonstrated both immune and metabolic responses that indicate this treatment might be working," Prof Len Harrison, from WEHI said.

"It feels a little bit ticklish. Its a lot better than the thought of having to have needles," Heather said.

Doctors say the insulin works like a vaccine, boosting the patient's immunity for several years.

"We are very hopeful. The initial results are very, very promising and the next trial is going to take us forward and gets us the definitive answer," Associate Professor Peter Colman, from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said.

More than 100,000 Australians suffer from type one diabetes, and the incidence of the disease is increasing.

Doctors are hopeful this approach will work not only for diabetes but a range of other diseases.

"If we can prevent type one diabetes by this approach, which is a relatively safe form of vaccination, then it will be a model for other auto immune diseases, like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis," Professor Harrison said.

One hundred patients will receive the treatment for one year, doctors will follow their progress for a further five years.

Copyright © 2004, Australian Broadcasting Corporation