Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Experts at Saint Louis University have found a way to prevent Type I diabetes in a mouse model by blocking the autoimmune processes responsible for destroying pancreatic beta cells.
Type I diabetes, a chronic disease that occurs when the body’s immune system destroys insulin-producing beta cells, results in a deficiency of the hormone and hyperglycemia. Treatments for the disease currently focus on controlling blood sugar through insulin therapy.
However, writing in the latest edition of the journal Endocrinology, Dr. Thomas Burris, chair of the university’s pharmacological and physiological science department, and his colleagues report their research could lead to way to prevent the illness instead of just treating symptoms.
“None of the animals on the treatment developed diabetes even when we started treatment after significant beta cell damage had already occurred,” Burris explained in a statement. “We believe this type of treatment would slow the progression of type I diabetes in people or potentially even eliminate the need for insulin therapy.”
Blame it on T-cells
While scientists already knew that at least two types of immune “T-cells” are responsible for contributing to the development of type I diabetes, the role of a third type (known as TH17) was unclear.
However, Dr. Burris and experts from the Department of Molecular Therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute have now found that a pair of nuclear receptors play a crucial role in the development of TH17 cells. By targeting these receptors, they were able to stop autoimmunity from developing in several mouse models, thus preserving the affected beta cells.
They blocked those receptors, ROR alpha and gamma t, with a selective ROR alpha and gamma t inverse agonist called SR1001. The substance, which was developed by Dr. Burris, significantly reduced diabetes in the mice that were treated with it.
In other, more simplistic terms
The findings indicate that TH17 cells play a role in the development of Type I diabetes, and suggest that the use of drugs that target this cell type may offer a new treatment for the illness. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and an Individual National Research Service Award.
According to the American Diabetes Association, only five percent of people with diabetes have the Type I form of the disease, which was previously known as juvenile diabetes because it is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. The organization said that over one-third of all research they conduct is dedicated to projects relevant to type 1 diabetes.