Insulin injections and insulin pumps are used by people with Type 1 diabetes to replace lost insulin to ensure that their blood glucose levels are stabilised and so help reduce their risk of life-threatening complications.

But scientists are now working to understand exactly what is happening inside the body when the immune system attacks the pancreas and they think it could lead to the next breakthrough. They are already conducting trials to test highly specific ‘immunotherapies’ that might be able to stop or delay this “immune attack” and so take us a step closer to a vaccine that would prevent Type 1 diabetes.

Diabetes UK funds several research projects in this area and believes that a vaccine for Type 1 diabetes could be available within the next 20 years.

Diabetes UK’s Director of Research, Dr Alasdair Rankin, said: “We tend to think of Type 1 diabetes as unavoidable but there is a huge sense of excitement in the research community that the work being done today is building towards a future where Type 1 diabetes can be stopped in its tracks.
 

“There is a huge sense of excitement in the research community that the work being done today is building towards a future where Type 1 diabetes can be stopped in its tracks.”

“This is not, of course, going to happen overnight. It is likely that the first vaccines we see may not prevent Type 1 diabetes entirely, but they could provide some benefits to people who already have the condition, making it easier to manage and improving their health in the long term. We would expect treatments to get gradually better as we understand more about how the immune system works in people with Type 1 diabetes.

“When you think that there are 300,000 people in the UK with Type 1 diabetes and that all of them have the daily struggle of managing their condition and die up to 20 years younger than people without the condition, the benefit of a vaccine would be enormous. It has the potential to be one of the really big medical breakthroughs in the first half of the 21st Century.”