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Type 1 Diabetes Stopped: How Scientists Did It

Type 1 diabetes stopped in mice

No one is sure exactly why it happens, but in some people, and at an early age, the immune system attacks and destroys the pancreatic beta cells until the body no longer can produce insulin. But not knowing exactly why it happens did not stop one group of scientists from stopping type 1 diabetes in mice.

Can we stop type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes, previously called juvenile diabetes because it first appears during childhood or in young adults, is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas stops making insulin. About 5 percent of the nearly 26 million children and adults with diabetes in the United States have type 1 disease, which is equivalent to about 1 in every 400 children and adolescents.

Finding a way to put the brakes on the development of type 1 diabetes in humans would be a monumental breakthrough, and this new study from Karolinska Institute in Sweden is a significant start. The brakes were applied to genetically susceptible mice by injecting them with specially prepared cells.

Scientists have known that immune system cells called macrophages are involved in the destruction of beta cells. However, macrophages don't always attack beta cells: they can be instructed to protect rather than destroy. So the scientists looked for the cells that give the instructions, and those are immune cells called cytokines.

According to the lead researcher, Robert Harris, he and his team discovered which cytokines send signals to macrophages to protect rather than to destroy. "We managed to achieve this aim, defining a novel combination of cytokines that confer on macrophages the ability to protect mice from developing Type 1 diabetes."

The mice used in the study were genetically susceptible to develop the autoimmune disease within 12 to 30 weeks after birth. At age 16 weeks, the mice were placed into one of three groups:

  • Mice that received macrophages treated with a specific set of cytokines
  • Mice that received untreated macrophages
  • Mice that did not receive any macrophages

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The mice in all three groups were observed for three months to see what would happen to the beta cells. In the mice that received macrophages treated with cytokines, only 25 percent developed type 1 diabetes compared with 83 percent of the mice in the other two groups.

Harris noted that even though they introduced the cytokine-treated macrophages just two weeks before the mice developed type 1 diabetes, a point when there are only a few beta cells remaining that can produce insulin, "we were able to protect these so that the mice never developed diabetes."

What causes type 1 diabetes?
Experts believe both genetic and environmental factors have a role in triggering the events that lead to the destruction of the beta cells in the pancreas and the resulting type 1 diabetes. Viral infections, including enteric viruses that attack the intestinal tract, are among the possible environmental factors behind type 1 diabetes.

Other environmental factors include a vitamin D deficiency, which has been proposed as a possible cause of development of type 1 diabetes in children. At least one study has also suggested that women who eat more vegetables during pregnancy may help protect against development of the disease in their children.

At least 18 genetics locations have been identified as being related to type 1 diabetes, and others may be found. Genetics does not appear to have a large role, however. Most individuals who develop type 1 diabetes have no family history of the disease. In fact, the chances of inheriting the disease are only 10 percent if someone has a first-degree relative with diabetes.

The new Swedish study is significant in that "such a successful late-stage intervention has never previously been reported." Scientists were able to stop type 1 diabetes at a stage when "most human individuals have already lost most of their insulin-producing beta cells."

American Diabetes Association
Holick MF. The D-lightful vitamin D for child health. J Parenter Enteral Nutrition 2012 Jan; 36(1 Suppl): 9S-19S
Parsa R et al. Adoptive transfer of immunomodulatory M2 macrophages prevents type 1 diabetes in NOD mice. Diabetes 2012 Jun 28; DOI:10.2337/db11-1635

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Updated 12/22/2014



Great news for those who may be predisposed to type 1.. however, let's try to find a CURE for those already suffering from Type 1.
I agree. As is sometimes the case, however,one discovery opens the door to other possibilities, and in this case, what scientists have discovered about stopping type 1 diabetes in mice may lead to a way to cure the disease in those who suffer with it. This new discovery may provide an "ah ha!" moment for other scientists who are exploring ways to cure type 1 diabetes.
its great to see that they accomplished this much hopefully this does lead to something so that people with type 1 can get cure im now 16 i was diagosed a little over a year ago and its a huge cange and it just makes everything so much more difficult so i hope they find out something soon!
I just may be a combination of things that will cure the Type 1 diabetes. First we need to find the reason for the death of these islets and then this will really be helpful because it will prevent it from happening again. However, this will not help those already with no islets. For that, I would assume that stem cells may be able to play an active party. We have Type 1 and Type 2 and Type 2 insulin dependent in my family. It sure would be nice to find some cures and preventions for all of them.
There could still be a cure including these finding. For instance, transplantation of islets into the liver is something which is done in the clinic now days. The problem is that these islets get rejected over time or attacked again by the aggressive (autoimmune) immune system. There is some work done with stem cells, making them to become insulin producing beta-cells. The problem is that these ones would also be attacked by the immune system. But maybe by combining stemcell / transplantation therapy with cell therapy (as in this article) one could maybe cure diabetes.
Every research finding contributes something to the quest for an effective way to prevent, treat, or cure diabetes, whether it is a positive factor or something that can be discarded from the array of possibilities. Studies like the current one reported here offers something positive to the quest and may work in combination with one or more other discoveries--either those already identified or those to come.
Anything that further research and understanding in terms of Type 1 diabetes will hopefully lead to a cure in the near future. I'm not too sure about the articles claim that mothers who eat more vegetables during their pregnancy may help protect against the disease. I was a vegetarian when pregnant and my daughter still developed Type 1.
Just because something protects against a disease does not mean it protects 100% effectivly. What it means is that some people who would get it otherwise won't... but not everyone.
both my kids have Type 1 Diabetes, so I am interested in any info, still confused about the diet drink debate as my kids cosume large amounts everyday they seldom drink water .My son is nearly 18 and was diagnozed when he was 11 and my daughter is 21 and got it when she was 18..they struggle with it daily, testing is a major hassle with both of them Thank you Karan
Thank you for your comments, Karan. What a challenging situation for you and your children. I wonder about the genetic component, given that both children developed type 1 diabetes. Best to your family.
oh thats great...my son has recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes,i know this whole thing of immune system destroying the Beta-cells,but there is 1 question always in my mind-"why the immune system just affects the beta cells?"morever about this discovery:this really makes sense for those immune cells taught to not attack.are the immune cells some kind of nerve cells?moreover,when could this great discovery of treating diabetes type 1 would go practical,we are all waiting anxiously for a cure to this disease.do reply me plz.
Scientists have not identified why the immune system attacks the beta cells, just like they don't know why the body attacks certain cells in other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, and multiple sclerosis, among others. It will likely be many years before the information from this discovery can be thoroughly investigated, studied, and tested to finally produce a medication or other medical intervention that can have an impact on type 1 diabetes. I wish you and your son all the best.