A research team from the University of Colorado believes that it’s made a major breakthrough in identifying the cause of Type 1 diabetes and their work was featured recently in the journal Science.
Type 1 Diabetes cause identified?
After a decade of research, the cause of Type 1 diabetes may have finally been found. Type 1, not to be confused with adult onset or Type 2 diabetes (which based on diet doesn’t wait for adulthood), is an inherited autoimmune disorder which sees insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas being destroyed by the body’s own immune cells.
“We’ve been studying T cells in Type 1 diabetes,” said Thomas Delong, a research assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
More specifically, a type of T cell and the researchers believe they have identified a hybrid insulin peptide in its study with mice.
“Our lab studies the type of T cell known as a CD4 T cell,” said Dr. Kathryn Haskins, a professor of immunology and microbiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in a press release. “We have focused on autoreactive CD4 T cells using a mouse model of autoimmune diabetes. We have been especially interested in identifying the antigens that activate these T cells.”
Interest? Certainly for Dr. Delong who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 12.
The problem with T cells in layman’s terms is while they are there to kill foreign cells in the body to keep you healthy. The problem is when they get a get a bit confused and start running amok and killing healthy cells in the body rather than concentration on foreign cells. This is the basis of many autoimmune disorders. But what causes the confusion?
“There has to be something happening in the beta cells that triggers the attack,” Delong explained.
Beta cells are the cells that are killing the healthy cells rather than the beneficial alpha T cells.
“We found a new type of protein modification,” Delong told CBS4.
This modification is half “mutt” and half insulin and the the T cell just doesn’t like dogs.
“Because the immune system sees that and thinks it might be foreign because it’s never seen that before, it attacks the junction of these proteins,” Delong explained.
Diagnosis to discovery
“I became interested in studying and asking questions, ‘Why does this happen to me? Why does my immune system turn against me?’” says delong.
Delong and his team won a highly competitive 5-7er grant that is American Diabetes Association’s Pathway to Stop Diabetes program.
“The ADA, at the same time, helps me to give me a little breathing space,” Delong said.
This funding allows Delong to stay focused in the lab rather than constantly searching for additional funding for he and his teams work. Unfortunately, this is not a luxury provided by short-term grants or even multiple sources of grant money and private donors, you’re often forced to be a salesperson rather than a scientist when you only trained for the former.
“If we are trying to find a cure for diabetes, we have to find a way to prevent the immune system from attacking,” Delong said.
While Delong clearly has a vested interested in both his work and his health, he believes that his work could some day help other researchers in their battles against other autoimmune disorders.