Could hepatitis B vaccine curb diabetes? New data suggests a link

June 26, 2014 | by

Vaccinating people against hepatitis B could prevent diabetes from developing in some individuals, a new City of Hope study suggests.

New data suggest that vaccinating against the hepatitis B vaccine, shown here in a 3D model, could reduce the risk of diabetes.

New data suggest that vaccinating against hepatitis B, shown here in a 3D model, could reduce the risk of diabetes.

The study, an analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, indicated that people vaccinated for hepatitis B had a 50 percent reduction in risk for diabetes compared to those not vaccinated, even after adjusting the data for confounding factors.

The survey, called NHANES, is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess health and nutrition in U.S. adults and children. City of Hope researchers analyzed data on more than 7,000 participants with no prior diabetes history; about 1,400 of them had been vaccinated.

“The study showed people vaccinated with hepatitis B have a much lower risk for diabetes,” said Ken C. Chiu, M.D., from the Department of Clinical Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism. “If we can vaccinate patients effectively, there’s a good chance for us to reduce the risk of diabetes by at least 50 percent.”

Chiu says the theory is a controversial one, but easily tested; he's in the process of developing a study to further investigate the potential link. The current findings were reported recently at the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions in San Francisco.

Infection has previously been implicated as one potential cause of diabetes, and associations between diabetes and hepatitis C are widely accepted in the medical community. This study was the first to find a similar association between hepatitis B and diabetes.

Researchers began by compiling data on adults from the NHANES project who had provided information on fasting blood glucose and hepatitis B status. Those with established diabetes were excluded. Since diabetes status was based on blood glucose levels, there was no way to differentiate between types 1 and 2 diabetes in the study.

Of the 7,142 subjects with no diabetes history, 1,412 had been successfully immunized against hepatitis B. Diabetes occurred in 16 people with the hepatitis B vaccination, and 325 without the immunization. This equated to an 81 percent reduction in risk, but researchers noted that many of those who received the vaccine had a few things in common: They tended to be young, female, leaner by body mass index, had lower fasting plasma glucose levels, and were less likely to drink alcohol than those not immunized.

But even after adjusting the results to account for age, gender, BMI, smoking status, physical activity and race, the apparent protective effect of the hepatitis B vaccination was considerable.

Researchers still have questions on how exactly the vaccine would protect against diabetes, but the numbers are compelling enough to warrant further study, Chiu says.

“It would be so simple to do,” he said. “We’re thinking about it, and looking for a place that extensively vaccinates people against hepatitis B.”

The study would involve immunizing half of the participants for hepatitis B, but not the other half. The individuals would then be followed long-term to compare diabetes rates.

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Learn more about diabetes research at City of Hope.