The Basic Challenges of Curing Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s own immune system misguidedly attacks and destroys certain cells in the pancreas, an organ about the size of a hand that is located behind the lower part of the stomach.
These cells–called beta cells–are contained, along with other types of cells, within small clusters in the pancreas called islets. Beta cells normally produce insulin, a chemical messenger that helps the body move sugar from food sources into cells throughout the body, which use it for fuel to stay alive. But when the beta cells are destroyed, no insulin can be produced, and sugar stays in the blood instead, where it can cause serious damage to all the organ systems of the body and starves cells of their normal energy source. For this reason, people with type 1 diabetes must routinely inject insulin in order to stay alive.
Above, right: 1) Red arrows show misguided immune attack on the pancreatic beta cells. 2) Dark circles show the dying insulin-producing beta cells. 3) Insulin production declines & blood sugar levels rise too high.
JDRF Cure Research Goal: Restore and Maintain Normal Pancreas Function
To cure someone diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, two fundamental aspects of the disease need to be corrected. First, we need to find ways to turn off the misguided immune system attack on the insulin-producing beta cells; stopping the autoimmune process, or protect new beta cells from this ongoing attack (encapsulation). Next, we need to find a way to restore the body’s ability to produce its own insulin. Restoring new insulin-producing cells in the body could be achieved in a few different ways – either by making them from other remaining healthy cells in the pancreas (regeneration) or by making them in a lab or obtaining them from other animals and putting them into the body (replacement).
1) Body’s misguided attack on pancreas continues 2) Form an immune protective barrier around beta cells from another source 3) Replace beta cells by implanting the protected new beta cells
1) Stop body’s misguided attack on pancreas, AND 2a) Regenerate new beta cells from those remaining, OR 2b) Reprogram other cell types into growing new insulin-producing beta cells, OR 2c) Replace beta cells by implanting new ones.
Immune Research Therapy
Type 1 diabetes is caused by an improperly balanced immune system. JDRF is focused on developing targeted therapies, to eliminate the immune destructive cells that destroy beta cells, and/or expand the number of immune protective cells to halt the disease process.
Beta Cell Regeneration Research
JDRF-supported research has identified multiple novel ways to regrow a person’s lost beta cells. JDRF is now working to discover and develop new drugs that will cause surviving beta cells to multiply or those that reprogram other cell types to become insulin-producing beta cells.
Beta Cell Encapsulation Research
JDRF’s encapsulation program is developing easily implanted products composed of beta cells surrounded by a protective shield. Such products will allow beta cells to constantly sense a person’s glucose levels and produce insulin as needed, while protecting the beta cells from further immune attack.