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Newly discovered cause of type 1 diabetes brings researchers closer to a cure

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Cause of type 1 diabetes challenged by new study.

Researchers believe type 1 diabetes is cause by autoimmune dysfunction. Anew finding challenges how the disease develops. The new investigation means hope for a potential cure for type 1 diabetes.


Bart Roep, Ph.D., the Chan Soon-Shiong Shapiro Distinguished Chair in Diabetes at City of Hope Medical and Research Center, in conjunction with a team of international researchers published the finding in the journal Nature.

Immune system doing it’s job

Rather than the immune system mistakenly attacking insulin producing beta cells, the researchers were able to show it is an error in beta cell genes that causes stress on the pancreas cells.

The finding also helps explain why some patients who receive chemotherapy develop type 1 diabetes. The researchers were investigating cancer molecules that are attacked when patients are given immunotherapy treatment.

The team of scientists discovered a nonsense (non-functional) protein that is attacked with cancer immunotherapy that is also produced by beta cells with type 1 diabetes.

The protein is produced from a misreading of DNA sequence.

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Professor Roep believes it is the insulin gene that is being attack by the immune system.

“The immune system does what it is supposed to do, which is respond to distressed or 'unhappy' tissue, as it would in infection or cancer”, Roep said in a press release.
“This is an incredible step forward in our commitment to cure this disease.”

The response to beta-cell destruction that causes the disease is similar to the body’s response to destroy a cancer tumor - a concept that is gaining ground.

Potential type 1 diabetes cure

If the finding is correct, it would mean a potential cure for type 1 diabetes using immunotherapy or vaccines to train the immune system to not attack the cells in the pancreas.

“Our goal is to keep beta cells happy,” Roep said. “So we will work on new forms of therapy to correct the autoimmune response against islets and hopefully also prevent development of type 1 diabetes during anti-cancer therapy.”

Journal Reference:
Autoimmunity against a defective ribosomal insulin gene product in type 1 diabetes
Maria J L Kracht, et al
Nature Medicine (2017) doi:10.1038/nm.4289
February 27, 2017