Protecting Beta Cells and Preventing Type 1 Diabetes

Beta cells in the pancreas produce that well-known hormone insulin, and insulin is what enables the body to regulate blood sugar. In Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune malfunction occurs and B cells, or B lymphocytes, activate T cells (T lymphocytes). These T cells then destroy pancreatic beta cells and impair the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. The understanding of this mechanism has made diabetes researchers conjecture that one way to combat Type 1 diabetes would be to somehow protect those pancreatic beta cells from destruction by eliminating or deactivating B cells.

Recently, scientists at the Jackson Laboratory, a nonprofit biomedical research institution, along with Cyteir Therapeutics, a company specializing in DNA research, and other collaborating institutions announced that they had in fact discovered a way to protect beta cells from destruction. The researchers adapted strategies already developed by researchers to treat B-cell lymphomas.

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Key to the approach was a gene manipulation tactic that identifies a potential target that would eliminate B cells that trigger the development of Type 1 diabetes. According to David Serreze, PhD, lead author of the new report, which appeared in the Journal of Immunology, “Our approach targets an appropriate population of the B cells among the white blood cells, resulting in inactivation of the cascade of autoimmunity against the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells and hence subsequently blocking diabetes development.” This new development is certainly encouraging, and, if all goes well, the researchers expect that it will lead to the formulation of therapies to prevent Type 1 diabetes.

Want to learn more about recent Type 1 diabetes research? Read “New Staging Classification for Type 1 Diabetes” and “IBM and JDRF: Organizations Partner to Combat Type 1 Diabetes.”