November 20, 2008

Fooling immune systems to fight diabetes

Doctors have tricked mouse immune systems into thinking cells from a donor pancreas are theirs, bringing hope to diabetes patients, U.S. researchers said.

The new technique, to fight type 1 diabetes, eliminated the need for drugs that inhibit immune-system activity in diabetic mice that had insulin-producing islet cell transplantation, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine researchers said.

Immunosuppressive drugs prevent bodies from rejecting the islet cells, but they're toxic to the new cells and put patients at risk for infections and cancer, doctors say.

But with the new technique, we made the recipient feel that the donor cells are their own, microbiology-immunology professor Stephen Miller said.

This technique is a highly attractive potential therapy for human islet cell transplantation, he said.

The findings were reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Miller's study was funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

As many as 3 million people in the United States may have type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that develops in children and adolescents and results in the destruction of insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas.

About 50 to 70 islet transplants, an experimental procedure, are performed each year in North America, Northwestern said.