Want to Stave Off Type 1 Diabetes? Beta Cell Proliferation May Be the Key

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In Nature Metabolism, JDRF-funded researchers—including the lead author, Ercument Dirice, Ph.D., and senior author, Rohit Kulkarni, M.D., Ph.D.—found an unidentified piece of information: By enhancing beta cell mass secondary to a robust beta cell proliferation early in life, they could protect mice from developing type 1 diabetes (T1D). I’ll say that again: By enhancing beta cell mass early in life, they could protect them from developing T1D. Whoa!

T1D is an autoimmune disease, in which the immune cells mistakenly attack the beta cells of the pancreatic islets, making a person with T1D dependent on external insulin to survive. The researchers, however, wanted to know if inducing beta cell proliferation, before the immune attack, would provide protection against T1D development. They found that, upon enhancement, they could alter the identity of beta cells and make immune cells less likely to attack and kill the beta cells. Underlying this was the influx of regulatory immune cells—which maintain the balance of the immune system by controlling the activity of self-damaging immune cells—to the point where they could prevent the progression of T1D.

“It is well-accepted that a successful cure for type 1 diabetes will need preventing the self-reactive autoimmune attack and maintaining or increasing beta cell mass for proper insulin function,” says Dr. Dirice. “A timely intervention to boost beta cell replication before the action of pathogenic immune cells resulted in benefits that prevent the progression of this disease.”

Dr. Dirice is pursuing his T1D research as a new faculty member at the New York Medical College School of Medicine thanks to a JDRF Advanced Postdoctoral Fellowship and Transition Award. These awards enable promising scientists to focus their intellect, ambition and passion on improving life with T1D. Learn more about JDRF’s fellows and how you can support their work to prevent, treat and—one day—cure T1D.

By Alexandra Mulvey