100-Year-Old Tuberculosis Vaccine Could Reverse Type 1 Diabetes

A 100-year-old tuberculosis vaccine not only shows promise for treating diabetes, but also for reversing it.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital are launching a five-year clinical trial of BCG, an inexpensive generic vaccine that’s been used to prevent tuberculosis for decades, to investigate how it can improve type 1 diabetes in adults. Currently, the researchers are recruiting 150 patients to participate in the study.

Participants in the clinical trial will receive two injections, four weeks apart, of either BCG or a placebo, and then a single injection once a year over the course of four years. Researchers will monitor the subjects closely throughout the entire period.

Dr. Denise Faustman and her research team have already successfully completed a trial demonstrating that the vaccine reversed type 1 diabetes in mice, while also establishing the safety and potential of a phase 1 human clinical trial.

“We saw early signs that even at low doses of this vaccine the bad white blood cells that were killing the pancreas were killed, and also the good white blood cells that quiet down type 1 diabetes were up-regulated,” Faustman told CBS Boston.

Although it might not seem like diabetes is that widespread of a problem, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with diabetes every 17 seconds. Now, there are about 29 million Americans — and 387 million people across the world — who suffer from the disease.

Currently, type 1 diabetic patients have to take insulin on a regular basis, while also vigilantly monitoring their blood sugar, to manage their condition.

“You’re never free from it,” said Jennifer Sullivan, who was diagnosed when she was 15, and has since lived with the disease for 30 years. “Anything you eat, anything you drink, stress level, exercise, everything factors into it every single day.”

A treatment such as the one the research is pursuing would mitigate the anxieties many diabetics have. As Sullivan explains, these fears include “the risk of complications, like blindness, amputations, kidney disease, heart disease, not seeing my son.”

In order to complete the study, researchers will need a total of $25 million, of which they’ve raised $19 million to date.


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