One of the challenges researchers have faced with using cell therapy to treat type 1 diabetes is that the body’s immune system may still attack and destroy transplanted cells. This process may be slightly delayed depending on the approach used, but it often still occurs. That means that patients may still need to rely on immune suppression medications in conjunction with cell therapy. However, immunosuppression can increase risk of infection or other complications.
A recent study found that targeting highly durable cells that have the ability to escape immune attacks and survive may be key in developing a more effective treatment for type 1 diabetes. Dr. Judith Agudo has identified stem cells with this “immune privilege” and is working to determine exactly what contributes to this level of protection and how to replicate it with beta cells. Dr. Agudo is an assistant professor in the department of immunology at Harvard Medical School and in the department of cancer immunology and virology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
If scientists can engineer insulin-producing beta cells that have the ability to avoid attacks from the immune system while still performing their intended functions, this could be a huge step forward in potentially treating type 1 diabetes. The beta cells would be able to stimulate insulin production without requiring the patient to take immune suppression medications, meaning their immune system could continue to function as normal and fend off infection.
Once Dr. Agudo is able to develop these durable beta cells, they will be tested in animal models, followed by humans a few years later. It is important to conduct thorough testing to ensure this method is both safe and effective. If it is, the goal would be to eventually make it available to anyone who requires the use of insulin.
Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is excited to see how this study evolves and what it could mean for the future of diabetes treatment. While not involved in this study, the DRC plays an integral role in providing critical funding for early career scientists focused on research for type 1 diabetes. Scientists continue to advance understanding of the disease and potential approaches to improve diagnosis, treatment, management, and quality of life for individuals living with type 1 diabetes. Learn more about current DRC projects and how to support these efforts by visiting https://diabetesresearchconnection.org.