Type 1 diabetes: Could modified blood stem cells lead to a cure?
Increasing levels of a certain protein in blood stem cells so that the immune system stops attacking insulin cells in the pancreas could be a way to halt type 1 diabetes, according to a new study reported in Science Translational Medicine.
Researchers led by those at Harvard Medical School's Boston Children's Hospital in Massachusetts found that they could reverse hyperglycemia in diabetic mice by modifying their defective blood stem cells to increase production of a protein called PD-L1.
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin. Without sufficient insulin, the body cannot convert blood sugar, or glucose, into energy for cells, with the result that it builds up in the bloodstream.
Over time, high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, leads to serious complications such as vision problems and damage to blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys.
Immune system attacks beta cells
Around 5 percent of the 23.1 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the United States have type 1 diabetes.
The body produces insulin in the pancreas, which is an organ that sits just behind the stomach. It contains insulin-producing beta cells that normally sense glucose levels in the blood and release just the right amount of insulin to keep sugar levels normal.
In type 1 diabetes, a fault in the immune system makes inflammatory T cells — which usually react to "foreign" material — attack beta cells in the pancreas. Nobody knows exactly how this comes about, but scientists suspect that a virus, or some other trigger in the environment, sets it off in people with certain inherited gen Continue reading