Autoimmune Awareness: A New Approach to Battling Autoimmune Disease

Could an inexpensive vaccine be the key to reversing both type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS)—and possibly even other autoimmune conditions?

Dr. Denise Faustman and colleagues at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital think so. Faustman’s group recently completed a Phase I human clinical trial testing BCG—best known as an anti-tuberculosis vaccine—in patients with advanced type 1 diabetes. In the study, BCG vaccination, repeated once, appeared to temporarily restore some pancreatic function in patients who had been living with the disease for an average of 15 years.

The prospect of a cure

A Phase II study, which will explore higher doses and an extended dosing schedule, is currently being planned. Ultimately, the researchers hope that this well-known and inexpensive vaccine will not only put type 1 diabetes into remission—sparing type 1 diabetics the need to so frequently check blood glucose or administer insulin—but also better protecting them against dangerous fluctuations in blood glucose levels that cause complications. Faustman also sees the potential of BCG for a diversity of other autoimmune diseases—from lupus and Crohn’s disease to psoriasis, hypothyroidism and Sjögren’s syndrome—based on preclinical work performed in her lab and work performed at the National Institutes of Health.

Broader treatment?

Meanwhile, BCG has also been studied by a group of researchers in Italy who have found that the drug may have benefits in MS, including symptom reduction and reversal of disease progression. These findings from the US and Europe are potentially good news for the many patients suffering from autoimmune conditions. But how can one drug possibly have benefits in such a range of diseases? The answer may lie in common defects in the “bad” immune cells—those that inappropriately target and attack the body’s own cells and organs—found in people with autoimmunity. These defects make the cells susceptible to death when exposed to elevated levels of a body protein called TNF, the same protein that is raised by BCG vaccination.

By: Russell LaMontagne, President and Founder, Corinth Group