Research ArticleImmunotherapy

Type 1 diabetes immunotherapy using polyclonal regulatory T cells

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Science Translational Medicine  25 Nov 2015:
Vol. 7, Issue 315, pp. 315ra189
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aad4134

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Regulating type 1 diabetes

In patients with type 1 diabetes (T1D), immune cells attack the insulin-producing β cells of the pancreas. The resulting prolonged increase in blood sugar levels can lead to serious complications including heart disease and kidney failure. Regulatory T cells (Tregs) have been shown to be defective in autoimmune diseases. Now, Bluestone et al. report a phase 1 trial of adoptive Treg immunotherapy to repair or replace Tregs in type 1 diabetics. The ex vivo–expanded polyclonal Tregs were long-lived after transfer and retained a broad Treg phenotype long-term. Moreover, the therapy was safe, supporting efficacy testing in further trials.


Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically susceptible individuals. Regulatory T cells (Tregs) have been shown to be defective in the autoimmune disease setting. Thus, efforts to repair or replace Tregs in T1D may reverse autoimmunity and protect the remaining insulin-producing β cells. On the basis of this premise, a robust technique has been developed to isolate and expand Tregs from patients with T1D. The expanded Tregs retained their T cell receptor diversity and demonstrated enhanced functional activity. We report on a phase 1 trial to assess safety of Treg adoptive immunotherapy in T1D. Fourteen adult subjects with T1D, in four dosing cohorts, received ex vivo–expanded autologous CD4+CD127lo/−CD25+ polyclonal Tregs (0.05 × 108 to 26 × 108 cells). A subset of the adoptively transferred Tregs was long-lived, with up to 25% of the peak level remaining in the circulation at 1 year after transfer. Immune studies showed transient increases in Tregs in recipients and retained a broad Treg FOXP3+CD4+CD25hiCD127lo phenotype long-term. There were no infusion reactions or cell therapy–related high-grade adverse events. C-peptide levels persisted out to 2+ years after transfer in several individuals. These results support the development of a phase 2 trial to test efficacy of the Treg therapy.

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