Australasian scientists are hopeful they have cracked a code in the long search for a vaccine against type one diabetes - a disease which affects about one in every 300 to 400 New Zealanders.
An insulin nasal spray has shown promising signs of reducing pre-diabetic intolerance.
Scientists hope that regular doses of the treatment will delay, and eventually prevent, the onset of the autoimmune disease.
"We hope that we can pick up people who are at high risk of developing diabetes in the next five years and delay it," Liggins Institute principal investigator Dr Craig Jefferies said.
"For a two-year-old diabetic in particular, you're having to monitor their blood sugar which affects their moods and you've got to constantly watch what they do.
"If you can delay that until they're five years old, that's a huge difference."
The theory is that insulin sprayed into the nose will be quickly absorbed, allowing the immune system to recognise it as something the body produces naturally. "In people with T-cell autoimmune diabetes, insulin is seen as a foreign protein," Jefferies said.
Trial participants have their blood tested for three different antibodies to show whether their immune system has started attacking insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Those with more than one attacking antibody are considered suitable for the trial.
New Zealand relatives of type one diabetics are encouraged to enlist for the trial. It is free for New Zealanders as it is funded by Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council and other research organisations.
The Intranasal Insulin Trial is in its sixth year, overseen by Professor Len Harrison from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia.
Tests on 75 to 80 participants so far have shown promising signs of the treatment working, but nothing definitive, Jefferies said.
Participants will take part in a blind trial where a course of nasal spray is used for a year. Half the participants will be given insulin, the others a placebo. Trial participants will have their blood-glucose levels tested after six months and be monitored over five years.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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