Diabetes Research: The Role of Baker's Yeast in a New Immune Therapy

Patient Expert

Research regarding diabetes investigates many areas to look for ways to prevent, control and cure diabetes. On this site, we've talked about alpha 1 antitrypsin, which is a naturally occurring anti inflammatory response.   But in some cases of diabetes, the AAT level is too low.   Research such as this is categorized under "immune therapies."

While sifting through some JDRF research updates, I saw a small paragraph on an interesting study for an oral vaccine and it's so simple that it's kind of astounding it has not gathered more traction

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School have found an interesting approach to control the response that causes type 1 diabetes.

This research is looking at the stomach as a starting place to confuse the autoimmune system into tolerating beta cells.   I like the simplicity of the this novel approach because they use Baker's yeast shells as the coating for the compound. It's natural   and uncomplicated.   (I must admit, I thought of bread when I read about this and wondered is yeast derived from a gluten source?   In other words is this celiac friendly?)

Dr. Michael Czech, who leads the team at UMass, is using hollow "yeast shells" derived from Baker's yeast to carry proteins and other agents that alter the behavior of the immune cells in the stomach. This clever vaccine idea will allow the immune system to tolerate the insulin-producing beta cells that - with diabetes - would normally be targeted and destroyed.

The shells are loaded with dendritic and immune cells in the stomach with beta cell antigens. Recent research shows that dendritic cells play a key role in keeping the immune system working properly, either by causing the destruction of faulty T cells that are responsible for type 1 diabetes or causing the production of regulatory T cells, which keep the immune system functioning normally.

What the UMass team hopes is to stimulate are the correct T-cell responses, so that they can prevent or tur off the immune attack that causes type 1 diabetes. The nice part of this approach is that the vaccine would be "antigen-specific" to type 1 diabetes, meaning it would turn off just the immune system attack of the pancreas and leave the rest of the immune system unaffected, allowing it to function normally.

What does this mean for those of living with type 1? If Dr. Czech's research can prove itself during human trials, then this strategy has the potential to address root causes of type 1 diabetes and could be effective in preventing and controlling type 1 in those who are at risk, and those who already have it!