Focusing on encouraging beta cells to grow before they become damaged could help to prevent type 1 diabetes, researchers have said.
US scientists have been using mice to test their theory that growing and encouraging faster proliferation and turnover of beta cells may prevent type 1 diabetes from developing in the first place.
When the Joslin Diabetes Center researchers induced beta cell replications in mice that were susceptible to diabetes, the rats demonstrated protection from the autoimmune reaction that characterises type 1 diabetes.
“If you push the proliferation to continuously generate new insulin producing beta cells before the immune cell invasion starts then, for some reason we are still trying to figure out, immune cells stop attacking the beta cell,” said Dr Rohit Kulkarni, Professor of Medicine and Co-Section Head of Islet and Regenerative Biology at the Joslin Diabetes Center.
The study team are not sure why the process seems to prevent the beta cells from becoming damaged, although the team opine that the rapid growth of the new beta cells seems to “confuse” the immune system.
Dr Kulkarni added: “We believe there are some alterations in the new beta cells where a number of cells being presented as autoantigens are reduced or diluted, and therefore, because of the slow presentation of the antigens, the number of autoreactive T cells are less pathogenic.
“Clearly there’s a link between these two processes. A precise mechanism and the pathways and the proteins involved will require a follow up study.”
It is thought that once the process is better understood and more work has been carried out in animals, the study findings may eventually transcend to human clinical trials.
Dr Kulkarni said: “We’re really excited to move things forward. We hope that we can now begin to think about how to translate this to humans.”
The findings have been published in the journal Nature Metabolism.