Senescent Cells May Play Integral Role in Type 1 Diabetes

t1d research

For years, the general consensus among scientists was that type 1 diabetes (T1D) was caused by the immune system erroneously destroying insulin-producing beta cells. Researchers have yet to determine exactly why the immune system reacts this way in some people but not others. A new study exploring cellular changes prior to the development of diabetes may have unlocked an important piece of the puzzle.

Research conducted by a team from the UCSF Diabetes Center has revealed that secretory senescence in some insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas may be a trigger for this massive cellular destruction. When DNA damage causes cells to malfunction and harm surrounding cells, that is when the immune system kicks in and attacks the beta cells. But researchers have found this only occurs once the senescence has become widespread. If these senescent cells are eliminated early on, it may help prevent the onset of T1D because only damaged cells would be destroyed while healthy cells would remain.

The scientists studied both mouse models and pancreatic tissue from deceased human donors with diabetes. By administering an FDA-approved second-line chemotherapy agent called ABT-199 or Venetoclax, they were able to selectively target and destroy senescent beta cells in the pancreas. In their study, only 30 percent of mice given this drug developed T1D, while 75 percent of control mice developed T1D. Furthermore, the drug did not have any direct impact on healthy beta cells or the immune system in general.

Overall, they found that the risk of developing T1D could be decreased through the use of ABT-199. Further studies are necessary to determine whether periodic administration of the drug continues to clear senescent cells and keep the disease at bay. If so, this could become a potential new treatment option in the fight against T1D.

The Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is interested in seeing how this discovery plays out and impacts future diabetes research and treatment. It could open doors to new treatment therapies and approaches for decreasing the risk of T1D through early intervention. The DRC supports early career scientists in accessing critical funds to support novel research studies focused on the prevention, treatment, and cure of T1D as well as improvements in quality of life for individuals living with the disease. To learn more, visit


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