A new vaccine for the virus that plays a key role in the autoimmune attack leading to type 1 diabetes has been produced by researchers at Karolinska Institutet. The study was recently published in the scientific journal Science Advances.
While an estimated 50,000 Swedes live with type 1 diabetes (also known as childhood diabetes), the causes of the disease remain unknown. There is a genetic component, but environmental factors are also needed to develop the disease. One of these factors believed to be significant in type 1 diabetes is infections caused by a common group of enteroviruses. The subgroup in question is the Coxsackie B (CVB) family and consists of six strains that can cause the common cold. However, CVBs can also cause more serious infections leading to diseases, including myocarditis and meningitis.
According to many scientific observations, one hypothesis suggests that CVBs play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes. The disease is characterized by an autoimmune attack on the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas and it is possible that the virus infection somehow initiates attack by the immune system.
Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet and their colleagues from the University of Tampere and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland have now produced a vaccine that protects against all six known CVB strains. The vaccine has been tested in several animal models and has been shown to protect mice infected with CVB against the development of virus-induced type 1 diabetes.
The researchers then tested the vaccine in rhesus monkeys with very similar genetics as humans. In these animals, the vaccine worked well and produced antibodies to CVB, suggesting it could protect against the virus.
“The results provide important scientific support to an ongoing clinical development program aimed at testing a similar commercial vaccine in humans,” said University of Tampere professor Heikki Hyöty, who is participating in the clinical development program. The program is run by an American pharmaceutical company in partnership with a Finnish biotech company.
Assuming the vaccine is safe in initial clinical studies, the plan is to use the vaccine in children with a genetic risk profile for type 1 diabetes. The researchers write that if the number of children who develop type 1 diabetes decreases after vaccination or if no one develops the disease, this will confirm that CVBs are a triggering environmental factor.
The study was funded with grants from Business Finland, the Academy of Finland, the Swedish Children’s Diabetes Foundation (Barndiabetesfonden) and the Diabetes Strategic Research Program of the Karolinska Institutet. The American pharmaceutical company conducting the tests is Provention Bio, for which Malin Flodström Tullberg is a scientific advisor. Prevention is partnering with the Finnish company Vactech Oy, which holds patents in this field, of which Heikki Hyöty, a professor at Tampere University and co-author of the study, is one of the founders.