An Old Tuberculosis Vaccine May Hold The Key to Reversing Diabetes

New research shows relief for type one diabetes sufferers could come in the form of an old vaccine, BCG, which was originally developed to treat tuberculosis.
Mario L. Major

The incredible impact of vaccines is related to their potential to either ease the related symptoms, or in some cases eliminate them altogether, of many conditions and illnesses. Work on the proactive and hope-giving substances has been very active this year, producing some truly innovative results, some of them aimed at tackling cancer and HIV.


An equally important aspect of this work involves the development or discovery of new roles for existing vaccines. One example involves a team of researchers and their work with the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccineprimarily used against tuberculosis. 

Specifically, their study is providing results related to the vaccine's role in restoring blood sugar levels for those who have type one diabetes (TD1). The team elaborated on their still-unpublished findings and discussed the full scope their research earlier this week in a presentation at the annual European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) held in Berlin from the 1st to the 5th of October.

A long-term study reveals surprising results

The presentation from this month's meeting builds upon earlier research which was presented in a paper, titled "Long-term reduction in hyperglycemia in advanced type 1 diabetes: the value of induced aerobic glycolysis with BCG vaccinations", which was published on June 21st of this year in the Nature Partner Journals.

The mycobacterium bovis BCG strain is a vaccine that has been in successful use for a century, owing to its effectiveness in the prevention of tuberculosis, and in recent years it was also accepted as having the potential to address some inflammatory as well as autoimmune diseases. 

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The team had a hunch that reintroducing BCG to the body would restore glucose metabolism function caused by a generally reduced exposure to microbes in the environment (one could also interpret this as a crushing blow to the passionate supporters of antibacterial wipes and gels).

"It has long been believed that the move to cleaner and more urban environments is involved in not only how type 1 diabetes develops, but increased incidence of the disease", shared Dr. Faustman, Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Immunobiology Laboratory, who led the study.

"In particular, reduced exposures to certain microbes, the consequence of better sanitation, greater use of antibiotics, smaller family sizes, cleaner houses, less daily exposures to the soil, and less exposure to domesticated animals, appears to have changed the modern metabolic function."

The team reached their findings by conducting an 8-year randomized trial that involved subjects who received two injections of the vaccine with a 2-week gap between each injection. They observed a reduction in the average blood sugar of all the participants either before or at the 3-year mark, and even more promising, they found that the changes to these levels continued over the next 5-year period of the study.  

Future research efforts involving the BCG vaccine

While reporting the success of their work, the team also acknowledged the need to expand the parameters of their study even further. 

"Our discovery that type 1 diabetic patients have too little lymphoid sugar utilization opens the door for more clinical trials using the BCG vaccine, even in advanced type 1 diabetes, to permanently lower blood sugar with the potential to reduce the substantial illness and mortality associated with this disease," shared Dr. Faustman.



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