DRC & Research News

This page shares the latest news in T1D research and DRC’s community.

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Could Advancements in Gene Editing Reverse Type 1 Diabetes?

Gene therapy is not a new approach when it comes to treating type 1 diabetes. Scientists have been experimenting with many different options in order to stimulate the body to once again produce its own insulin and reduce or eliminate the need for insulin injections. However, some of the problems that scientists often encounter when introducing new cells into the body are that patients typically require immunosuppressant drugs which can lead to a variety of complications, the body rejects the cells over time, or the cells stop working. Finding a long-term, effective solution has been challenging.

Scientists are making strides in their efforts, though. A recent study examined the potential of using the gene-editing tool CRISPR to correct genetic mutations and create induced pluripotent stem cells that can be transformed into pancreatic beta cells. In mouse models, after the new cells were injected, mice achieved normoglycemia within a week and maintained this status for at least six months.

This approach has not yet been tested in humans, however, because it comes with its own set of challenges. First, the study was done using cells from patients with Wolfram syndrome, a condition that causes diabetes and deafness. This condition can be pinpointed to a single genetic mutation, whereas type 1 diabetes cannot. Type 1 diabetes has been tied to multiple gene mutations, as well as environmental factors. Gene-editing would have to be personalized for each individual, which could take a lot of time.

In addition, it could take billions of cells to effectively reverse diabetes in a patient, and generating this massive number of cells could take months, so it could end up being a long process to treat even one person. Plus, scientists are not entirely sure where the best place to transplant these cells is yet. They must find the spot where they will be most beneficial and able to carry out their intended purpose.

Another study using CRISPR technology is being conducted by a different group of researchers and is focused on using stem cells from the human cell line rather than from individual patients. This would make it easier to produce mass quantities of cells in a shorter period of time. It also would not require scientists to correct specific genetic mutations. CRISPR would be used to edit cells to prevent them from being attacked and destroyed by the body’s immune system.

A challenge with these approaches is that there are a lot of questions and regulations when it comes to gene-editing and using CRISPR on human subjects. Clinical trials are still in very early stages. Studies involving induced pluripotent stem cells are also relatively new in the United States. There is still a lot of work, research, and testing that needs to be done before gene-editing therapy could potentially be used on humans.

Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) will continue to follow these advancements and what they could mean for future diabetes treatment. DRC supports early-career scientists in contributing valuable discoveries and information of their own to the field by providing critical research funding. All projects funded by the DRC are focused on the prevention, treatment, and cure of type 1 diabetes, as well as minimizing complications and improving the quality of life for individuals living with the disease. Learn more and support these efforts by visiting https://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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Exploring the Impact of Environment on Type 1 Diabetes Risk

While researchers know that type 1 diabetes is caused by the destruction of insulin-producing beta cells, what they are still uncertain about are the exact causes of this process. They know that genetics play a role, yet there is not a single gene responsible for the disease; there are several genes that are believed to contribute. Furthermore, they are not convinced that the disease is entirely genetic, and have reason to believe that environmental factors are to blame as well. But once again, there is not a single environmental risk that has a significantly greater impact than others.

A recent study examined several environmental risk factors such as “air pollution, diet, childhood obesity, the duration of breastfeeding, the introduction of cow’s milk, infections, and many others” and yet researchers still do not have any definitive answers. What they do know is that the incidence of type 1 diabetes has increased over the past 30 years by 3 percent year over year, and this change is too significant to be caused by genetics alone.

Using a variety of modeling, they evaluated the impact of specific environmental factors over time. But the simulated data did not pinpoint one factor that stood out above the others and had a stronger impact on diabetes risk. It is likely that a combination of environmental factors is at play in conjunction with genetic risk. More research is needed to further investigate potential risks and protective factors when it comes to type 1 diabetes.

These findings may inspire other researchers to dig more deeply into environmental factors and their impact on disease development and progression. Diabetes Research Connection (DRC), though not involved with this study, provides critical funding for early-career scientists to pursue novel research studies related to type 1 diabetes to enhance understanding as well as prevention, treatment, and management of the disease. The goal is ultimately to find a cure. Learn more about current projects and how to help by visiting https://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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Studying Environmental Factors Related to Type 1 Diabetes

While genetics do play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes (T1D), researchers also believe that environment contributes as well. There is no singular cause of T1D, and all of its risk and protective factors are yet unknown. However, one study is striving to build a comprehensive understanding of diverse environmental factors and the role they may play in children developing T1D.

Researchers launched The Environmental Determinants of Islet Autoimmunity (ENDIA) several years ago and recently received an additional $8.25M in funding to keep it going for another three years. Over the past seven years, they have enrolled 1,500 participants, which includes babies ranging from pregnancy up to six months in age who have at least one immediate relative with T1D. The babies are seen every three to six months until they reach at least age three.

The study looks at a wide range of environmental factors in an effort to gain a better understanding of what increases or decreases risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Factors include “growth during pregnancy and early life, the method of delivery (natural birth versus caesarean section), the mother’s nutrition during pregnancy, infant feeding (breastfeeding and/or formula), the duration of breastfeeding and the child’s nutrition, the child’s immune system and when the child received vaccines and exposure to viruses during pregnancy and early life.”

Not only did it take a long time to recruit participants, it will take several years to gather and analyze the long-term data in order to identify potential risk or protective factors and how each child was affected. With millions of people living with T1D, this study may help to improve treatment and prevention in the future, possibly leading to a vaccine one day.

Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) will continue to follow this study and see how results progress and what discoveries are made. In the meantime, the organization provides critical funding for early career scientists pursuing research on various facets of T1D. Studies are focused on preventing or curing diabetes, as well as reducing complications and improving quality of life for individuals living with the disease. Visit https://diabetesresearchconnection.org to learn more about current projects and support these efforts.

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