Surviving beta cells could hold the key to new type 1 diabetes treatments
A research team at Yale has discovered information about the way in which some beta cells change to survive the immune attack that causes type 1 diabetes. Yale researchers told YaleNews, “The finding may lead to strategies for recovering these cells in diabetic patients.”
According to the study, which was funded in part by grants from the National Institute of Health and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, factors have been identified that can lead to some beta cells surviving for years after a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.
In people with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune attack destroys the insulin-producing beta cells. What is not understood is what triggers this attack happens, or why some people with diabetes have functioning beta cells in their body years after the onset of diabetes.
The team of researchers from Yale, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard looked at both mouse and human cells to explore the changes in beta cells that occur during the immune attack that causes diabetes. The YaleNews article explained that, “The researchers identified a subpopulation of beta cells that resists immune attack.”
“During the development of diabetes, there are changes in beta cells so you end up with two populations of beta cells,” professor of immunobiology and senior author Dr. Kevan Herold told YaleNews. “One population is killed by the immune response. The other population seems to acquire features that render it less susceptible to killing.”
The researchers found that the population of surviving cells are able to acquire “a stem-cell-like ability to revert to an earlier stage of development in which they can persist and proliferate despite immune attack,” YaleNews reported. The study and findings were published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
This finding is exciting because it could lead to new treatments for people with type 1 diabetes that could save or restore insulin production in their bodies. The research team hopes to modify the subpopulation of cells by testing various drugs that could turn them back into insulin-producing cells.
Herold adds, “The next question is, can we recover these cells so that there is insulin production in someone in type 1 diabetes?”
Researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center are also exploring the destruction of beta cells and pursuing several strategies to replenish the insulin-producing cells in people with diabetes.
One team is researching “progenitor” cells in the pancreas, which have the unique ability to transform into beta cells. By identifying the progenitor cells, researchers hope to develop ways to make more copies of any surviving cells.
According to the Joslin website, Susan Bonner-Weir, Ph.D. and her colleagues are “puzzling out exactly which cells can switch, and what signals those cells to make the transition and then proliferate.”
You can read more at the Joslin Center’s website.