Study shows tuberculosis vaccine may reverse Type 1 diabetes

Originally published by on June 21, 2018

A medical study out of Massachusetts General Hospital may have found a way to help people living with Type 1 diabetes using a common tuberculosis vaccine.

According to NBC News, researchers announced Thursday that the bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine has been shown, in a small group of study participants, to bring blood sugar levels down.

As published in the Nature Partner Journals vaccines series via, the ongoing study followed 52 people living with Type 1 diabetes. Six of those participants saw their blood sugar levels become nearly normal over the first three years and remain that way for the following five years.

Though the study’s lead, Dr. Denise Faustman, said insulin was still required, the breakthrough is that, along with the vaccine, these patients were able to get their A1C, the blood test used to determine whether someone is diabetic, closer to normal than anyone in the placebo group. Normal A1C levels can prevent many of the complications associated with diabetes like blindness and nerve pain in the feet.

WebMD says, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body’s pancreas is attacked by antibodies, causing the pancreas to stop making insulin. In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas can still make some insulin. The American Diabetes Association reports that “in 2015, 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4 percent of the population, had diabetes. Approximately 1.25 million American children and adults have type 1 diabetes.”

For the BCG vaccine to work, researchers say patients must be given two doses, an initial injection followed by a second shot of the vaccine a month later. But researchers are reluctant to call it a cure at this point since more research is needed to confirm the effects of the vaccine.

Not everyone in the medical field is convinced the study should be considered a success.

“If a simple and safe BCG vaccination could improve glucose control in Type-1 diabetes it would be a major advance,” said Andrew Hattersley of the University of Exeter Medical School in Britain, as reported by NBC. “Unfortunately, this study does not give any strong evidence to say this is the case.”

And Hattersley isn’t alone in thinking the study just isn’t conclusive.

“This could be something that happened by chance because people were a bit more diligent or leaner or more compliant with diet,” Dr. Adrian Vella, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, told NBC.

Others in the field have said the research is sound and promising.

“The finding that two doses of BCG, a safe vaccine that is almost 100 years old, can significantly improve the control of blood glucose in patients with established type-1 diabetes, is very exciting,” Helen McShane, professor of vaccinology, at the University of Oxford told The Telegraph. “The effects observed here, which intriguingly increase over time, may provide a highly cost-effective way to reduce the significant morbidity and mortality associated with this disease.”

A second study that will attempt to substantiate the original research by replicating its resultsis now underway, KCRA said.

About Daniel Wilson

Daniel has been a writer for over 25 years and recently earned his Bachelor's degree in journalism. Portfolio:
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