Scientists were able to reverse the onset of type 1 diabetes in mice by injecting antibodies, says a new study.

They tested the efficacy of the antibody treatment on genetically modified mice. These mice were designed to develop type 1 diabetes. Within 48 hours, blood glucose level in these mice came to normal levels and in 5 days they had a remission of diabetes.

"The protective effect is very rapid, and once established, is long-term. We followed the animals in excess of 400 days after the two antibody treatments, and the majority remained free of diabetes. And although the antibodies are cleared from within the animals in 2-3 weeks after treatment, the protective effect persists," said senior study author Roland Tisch, professor of microbiology and immunology at UNC.

Working with antibodies

Healthy people have T cells that destroy bacteria and viruses in their body. In people who develop type 1 diabetes, T cells locate and destroy insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Insulin breaks down sugar in the body, lack of insulin therefore results in elevated levels of sugar in the blood.

Present therapies that work on these T cells do not offer long-term benefits, researchers say.

"Clinically, there have been some promising results using so-called depleting antibodies in recently diagnosed Type 1 diabetic patients, but the disease process is blocked for only a short period of time," Tisch said.

But these depleting antibodies destroy normal T cells along with T cells that are targeting beta cells. This affects the immune system in the body.

Researchers are now studying "non-depleting antibodies." These bind to particular proteins known as CD4 and CD8 expressed by all T cells. When these non-depleting antibodies selectively bind to CD4 and CD8 they don't destroy the T cells.

"You're getting some efficacy from immunotherapy but its only transient, it doesn't reverse the disease, and there are various complications associated with the use of these depleting antibodies," Tisch said.

"We've demonstrated that the use of non-depleting antibodies is very robust. We're now generating and plan to test antibodies that are specific for the human version of the CD4 and CD8 molecules," Tisch said.

The study is published in the journal Diabetes.