Poles discover breakthrough stem-cell therapy against type 1 diabetes

The new TREG procedure, which will allow patients to decrease their insulin doses, has been developed by a team of scientists from the Medical University of Gdańsk

The breakthrough stem-cell therapy will help patients to decrease the risk of complications associated with type 1 diabetes. The disease belongs in the category of autoimmune diseases which have in common a malfunction in the immune system, leading to abnormal immune responses to normal body parts.

In the case of type 1 diabetes, the body is tricked into attacking its own pancreatic islets which contain hormone-producing cells such as the vital Beta cells producing insulin. The reason for the immune system running wild in type 1 diabetes patients is regulatory T cells, also known as “tregs” malfunctioning. The tregs have given name to the new stem-cell therapy, now known as TREG.

TREG therapy does not suit all type 1 diabetes patients. Children who weigh less than 30kg cannot be helped as it is impossible to take enough blood from them to isolate a substantial amount of regulatory T cells. TREG therapy can also only be used on patients who have recently started suffering from the disease, usually within 2 months of receiving the diagnosis.

Such patients still have 20-30% of their pancreatic islets functioning. With the help of the new therapy, the pancreatic islets can continue to produce insulin for up to five years. It allows patients to limit their external insulin doses, which in turn can slow down the arrival of complications associated with the disease from 10 to 30 or even 40 years.

One of the leading scientists on the team which has developed the method is Prof. Piotr Trzonkowski, head of the immunology department at the Medical University of Gdańsk. He is also a cofounder of the company POLTREG which is working on developing and commercialization of their patented TREG therapy.

Professor Trzonkowski estimates that a couple of hundred of the 2000 patients who are diagnosed in Poland yearly with the disease could be treated by their therapy. The method has advanced to stage 3 clinical testing and is already available for patients at the University Clinical Centre in Gdańsk thanks to an exemption resulting from its status as an Advanced Therapy Medicinal Product, issued by the European Medicines Agency.

Prof. Trzonkowski hopes that the TREG therapy will soon be available to the public after being entered into the central registry of authorised therapies by the European Medicines Agency as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).