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100-Year-Old Vaccine May Help Reverse Type 1 Diabetes

BOSTON (CBS) – Type 1 diabetes accounts for up to ten percent of all diabetes cases, but many patients are diagnosed in childhood making it a chronic and potentially debilitating disorder.

Patients lose their ability to make insulin and have to replace it for the rest of their lives, but local researchers have now found hope for patients in an age old vaccine that many people in other countries receive to prevent tuberculosis.

Jennifer Sullivan was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 15 years old. She has managed the disease for 30 years, using insulin to control her blood sugar.

"You're never free from it," Jennifer says. "Anything you eat, anything you drink, stress level, exercise, everything factors into it every single day."

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that often hits during childhood. Now researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital are launching a five year clinical trial of a vaccine that would not just treat the disease, but possibly reverse it.

The drug is called BCG and has been used to prevent tuberculosis for decades.

Dr. Denise Faustman, an endocrinologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, is recruiting 150 long-term patients to participate in the study. Faustman says earlier studies were promising.

"We saw early signs," said Faustman. "That even at low doses of this vaccine the bad white blood cells that were killing the pancreas were killed. And also the good white blood cells that quiet down Type 1 diabetes were up-regulated."

Sullivan doesn't qualify for this part of the study, but she says a vaccine could allay her fears about living with diabetes.

"I worry about the risk of complications, like blindness, amputations, kidney disease, heart disease, not seeing my son grow up," Sullivan.

She calls the study the most exciting of her life-time and hopes for a chance to participate in a future round.

Faustman is currently recruiting patients for the study. To find out more, visit the Faustman lab's website.

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