JDRF-funded researchers from the University of Florida in Gainesville have shown that a type of antibody therapy first investigated in the late 1970s can alter disease progression in diabetic mice when administered at or just before disease onset. The antibody therapy—called antithymocyte globulin, or ATG—appears to work by transiently reducing the number of T cells and by increasing the frequency and activity of regulatory T cells, a type of T cell whose normal role includes the suppression of autoimmune responses. Not only did mice injected with ATG at 12 weeks of age remain disease-free significantly longer than control mice, but at 30 weeks of age, 89 percent of the treated mice had blood glucose levels within the normal range, compared with only 22 percent of the control mice. Of the seven mice injected with ATG at disease onset, four showed a significant disease reversal; none of the control mice experienced this benefit. The research, led by Mark Atkinson, is published in the journal Diabetes.
In separate research, Dr. Atkinson and colleague Michael Haller observed that the combination of ATG and the cancer drug G-CSF, when given to mice with recent-onset disease, will reverse hyperglycemia in nearly all treated animals. Small JDRF-funded human trials of both ATG and G-CSF are currently underway, as are plans to develop a human trial using the two drugs in combination.