University of Calgary

Nanoparticle vaccine used to cure Type 1 diabetes in mice

Posted April 8, 2010
Dr. Pere SantamariaDr. Pere SantamariaUsing a sophisticated nanotechnology-based “vaccine,” researchers were able to successfully cure mice with type 1 diabetes and slow the onset of the disease in mice at risk for the disease.  The study, conducted at the University of Calgary was published April 8 in the online edition of the scientific journal Immunity.

The study co-funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, provides new and important insights into understanding how to stop the immune attack that causes type 1 diabetes, and could even have implications for other autoimmune diseases.

The research was led by Dr. Pere Santamaria, Chair of the Julia McFarlane Diabetes ResearcherCentre in UCalgary’s Faculty of Medicine.  The researchers were looking to specifically stop the autoimmune response that causes type 1 diabetes without damaging the immune cells that provide protection against infections – what is called an “antigen-specific” immunotherapy.  Type 1 diabetes is caused when certain white blood cells (called T cells) mistakenly attack and destroy the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. 

Antigen-specific immunotherapies, like Dr. Santamaria’s work on nanovaccines, are a priority within JDRF’s Immune Therapies program.

“Essentially there is an internal tug-of-war between aggressive T-cells that want to cause the disease and weaker T cells that want to stop it from occurring,” says Dr. Santamaria, who is a JDRF Scholar, an award to academic scientists taking innovative and creative approaches to better treat and cure type 1 diabetes and its complications.

Study finds treatment does not compromise immune system

According to Teodora Staeva, Ph.D., JDRF Program Director of Immune Therapies, a key finding from the study is that the treatment did not compromise the rest of the immune system – a key consideration for the treatment to be safe and effective in an otherwise healthy person with type 1 diabetes. 

“The potential that nanoparticle vaccine therapy holds in reversing the immune attack without generally suppressing the immune system is significant,” said Dr. Staeva.  “Dr. Santamaria’s research has provided both insight into pathways for developing new immunotherapies and proof-of-concept of a specific therapy that exploits these pathways for preventing and reversing type 1 diabetes.”

Dr. Santamaria noted that the study had implications for other autoimmune diseases beyond type 1 diabetes.  "If the paradigm on which this nanovaccine is based holds true in other chronic autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and others, nanovaccines might find general applicability in autoimmunity," says Dr. Santamaria, a Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases and a member of the Calvin, Phoebe and Joan Snyder Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation

The nanoparticle vaccine technology developed by Dr. Santamaria used in the study is licensed by Parvus Therapeutics Inc., a biotechnology company focused on the development and commercialization of the nanotechnology-based therapeutic platform.    Parvus Therapeutics Inc. was spun out from UTI Limited Partnership, the technology transfer and commercialization center for the University of Calgary.       

This work was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA). Sue Tsai, Afshin Shameli and Pau Serra were supported by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions, and Jinguo Wang by the CDA. Pere Santamaria is a Scientist of Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions and a JDRF Scholar. The JMDRC is supported by the Diabetes Association (Foothills)