Three million Americans are living with type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes. These patients need to inject themselves with insulin every day to stay alive.
Now, for the first time, a promising therapy may stop the disease in its tracks.
Every second of every day, Spike Loy has to think about his blood sugar. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 7.
"My mom tested me for years," Loy said.
Now, he tests himself up to 10 times a day and has to worry about potential complications like nerve damage, blindness and stroke. Stanford researchers, however, are now studying a vaccine that could reverse the disease.
"We saw some very exciting outcome measures," said Dr. Larry Steinman, professor of pediatrics and neurology at Stanford University.
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system stops beta cells from making insulin. The vaccine uses DNA to attract and attack the bad cells that destroy insulin, while leaving the good beta cells alone.
"We bait the bad cells, kill them, and leave the beta cells in the pancreas to survive and function as insulin-producing cells," Steinman said.
Researchers gave 80 patients the vaccine once a week for 12 weeks. Those who received it had more beta cells. It essentially reversed the effects of the disease, which could lower the risk of complications.
Loy said it's a step closer to what he wants most, a cure.
Steinman said future studies of the vaccine will test whether patients can reduce or maybe even one day eliminate their daily insulin doses.
There were no significant side-effects observed in the study. To date, no DNA vaccine has ever been approved for human use. This could be the first one.