Good news: a vaccine that can potentially reverse type 1 diabetes is moving on to the next phase of clinical trials. The vaccine is called bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG). It has been used for nearly a century to prevent tuberculosis, and more recently has treated bladder cancer. In a previous trial, BCG succeeded in reversing type 1 diabetes in mice and in 103 humans.

This upcoming phase II trial will follow the effect of the vaccine on people who have advanced type 1 diabetes for five years. The participants include 150 adults ages 18 to 60 who still produce small but traceable amounts of insulin in their pancreas. The lead researcher of the trial, Dr. Denise Faustman of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, estimates that about one million people with type 1 diabetes still produce traces of insulin.

BCG has been able to eliminate abnormal white blood cells that spark type 1 diabetes. These white blood cells destroy pancreatic beta cells that make and release insulin into the blood. With these white blood cells in check, the hope is that greater insulin production will resume. In past trials, the researchers have been able to temporarily oust the problematic white blood cells, resulting in a small increase in the amount of insulin produced.

Each participant will receive frequent doses of the vaccine over the five years, and part of the trial will study how large a dose is needed to make the vaccine effective.

“In the phase I (preliminary) trial we demonstrated a statistically significant response to BCG, but our goal in (this trial) is to create a lasting therapeutic response,” Dr. Faustman said in a statement. “We will be working again with people who have had type 1 diabetes for many years. This is not a prevention trial; instead, we are trying to create a regimen that will treat even advanced disease.”

As with every step in diabetes advancement, we remain hopeful.

Do you think a type 1 diabetes vaccine is in our future?