Unlike adult-onset diabetes, type 1 diabetes occurs early in life and is considered to be an autoimmune disease where the body's own immune system becomes mobilized against the insulin-producing cells that reside in the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas. This is an extremely devastating illness, since the resulting dramatic loss of insulin results in high levels of glucose in the blood – a condition known as hyperglycemia. Although insulin treatments can control this condition, excess glucose circulating in the blood system reacts with tissues throughout the body and leads to devastating side effects over time including blindness, kidney dysfunction, heart disease and the enhanced likelihood of amputations on account of poor circulation.
There is, however, encouraging news on the horizon. Results from a clinical trial conducted by Doctor Denise Faustman and her colleagues from the Immunology Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital indicate that a medication, bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) used routinely as part of the treatment regimen for bladder cancer and as vaccination against tuberculosis could significantly improve the treatment for type 1 diabetes. BCG is produced from a strain of the weakened live bovine tuberculosis bacillus.
In regards to the mode of action of this medication, it appears that it targets the immunoreactive cells responsible for the death of insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. It seems that BCG stimulates the production of tumor necrosis factor produced used by certain cells in the immune system's repertoire to kill abnormal immune cells that invade healthy tissue. In addition, those patients treated with high doses of BCG showed evidence of insulin production - a significant finding. Faustman indicated that ,"Not only did we observe and measure the death of these self-targeting immune cells, but we also saw evidence of restoration of insulin production even in patients who've had type 1 diabetes for more than a decade."