Diabetes UK have announced the biggest research program in the charity’s history to try and develop a new vaccine for Type 1 diabetes within the next two decades, an accomplishment which could transform and improve the lives of the millions of people at high risk of developing the condition.

Type 1 diabetes effects around 300,000 people in the UK (accounting for around 10% of all diabetes cases). According to the American Diabetes Association, over 3 million Americans live with type 1 diabetes. The disease develops when the body is unable to produce insulin as a result of autoimmune destruction of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.

Diabetes type 1 is not the result of lifestyle. It affects people at a much younger age than type 2 diabetes, and is not caused by being overweight or sedentary. Put simply, there is nothing you can do to prevent diabetes type 1.

The charity believes that the vaccine would be particularly effective at helping people manage their condition and improve their life expectancy.

Dr Rankin, director of research, said: “It has the potential to be one of the really big medical breakthroughs in the first half of the 21st century.”

He added:

“We tend to think of Type 1 diabetes as unavoidable, but there is a huge sense of excitement in the research community that the work being done today is building towards a future where Type 1 diabetes can be stopped in its tracks.”

For years, scientists have been conducting research on potential targets for treatment in areas of the immune system. Initial clinical trials were a big disappointment as they didn’t lead to any concrete cure. However, after years of studying the trials researchers believe that even though the treatments don’t prevent the development of the disease, they could still be used to potentially reduce the associated health complications.

The health care market research publisher Kalorama Information similarly said that in the not-too-distant future we could see diabetes, the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., treated with a vaccine.

The vaccine would prove to be the biggest breakthrough in diabetes research since insulin was first successfully used to treat the disease nearly a century ago.

Dr Rankin noted: “This is not, of course, going to happen overnight. It is likely that the first vaccines we see will allow people to live longer before they develop Type 1 diabetes, rather than preventing it entirely. But we know that if people who do develop Type 1 diabetes are treated early with a vaccine then it could provide some benefits that make their condition easier to manage and improve their health in the long term.”

Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, decided to partner up with Diabetes UK, with the intention of raising up to £10 million ($15 million) to fund what will be the biggest single research program looking into a possible vaccine for Type 1 diabetes.

The collaboration is a cause for huge excitement among the research community which has been working hard to permanently knock the disease on the head.

Michael Kissman, Community Director at Tesco, said, “Working in this partnership, I’ve met many people coping with the difficulties this condition can bring. It is hugely exciting that through the generosity of our colleagues and customers, we can contribute to a possible future without Type 1 diabetes and also help all those who are currently living with diabetes in the UK.”

Written by Joseph Nordqvist