In a study that’s the first of its kind, researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston have discovered that ensuring a healthy supply of insulin-producing beta cells may help prevent an autoimmune attack of the kind that causes type 1 diabetes.
Published in the journal Nature Metabolism, the study involved mouse models in which researchers manipulated the growth of pancreatic beta cells while the animals were still young, meaning that the immune system was still developing.
Two different groups of mice were used in the study: one in which the animals were genetically engineered to have increased beta cell production soon after birth, and another in which the animals were injected at a young age with a substance known to increase beta cell production. Both groups of mice were bred to be highly susceptible to developing the equivalent of type 1 diabetes.
With the increased beta cell production in these mice, the autoimmune attack that causes diabetes didn’t happened or was blunted, resulting in 99% of the animals surviving to an age of almost 2 years — an unusually long life for diabetes-prone mice.
“If you push the proliferation [of] insulin producing beta-cells before the immune cell invasion starts, then, for some reason we are still trying to figure out, immune cells stop attacking the beta cells,” explains lead researcher Rohit N. Kulkarni, MD, PhD. “We believe there are some alterations in the new beta cells, where [the] number of cells being presented as autoantigens” — prompting an immune system attack — is “reduced or diluted.”
Once the process of increasing beta cells to reduce an autoimmune attack is better understood, this research could move on to human studies and eventually clinical trials, the researchers write.
Want to learn more about recent Type 1 diabetes research? Read “Reversing Type 1 Diabetes: New Research From Boston Children’s Hospital,” “Can a Very Low-Carb-Diet Help People With Type 1 Diabetes?” and “Type 1 Diabetes Research: What’s New?”
A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree in government from Harvard University. He writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.