Immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer treatment and survival rates, but it comes with a cost and, for some patients, that is a lifetime of diabetes and insulin dependence. Why the game-changing treatment causes this very particular side effect remains a mystery.
So far, only about one percent of immunotherapy patients seem to develop diabetes, but as the relatively new treatment becomes more common, drug-related diabetes might too.
Though it's manageable with vigilantly monitored glucose levels and insulin injections, diabetes can be life-threatening, not to mention hamper quality of life for patients. Now, scientists, including the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, are scrambling to identify how this phenomenon happens and why it happens to some patients but not others. Immunotherapy effectively supercharges the immune system by turning off naturally occurring proteins that stop cancer-fighting immune cells from multiplying and attacking tumor cells in full force. But the immune system is a complex and delicately balanced set of processes, cells and organs.