Potential new cause of juvenile diabetes

By Jill L. Ferguson

The Mayo Clinic says there currently is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes, caused by the loss of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. “Children who have a high risk of developing type 1 diabetes can be tested for antibodies associated with the disorder. But the presence of these antibodies doesn’t make diabetes inevitable. And there’s currently no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes if the antibodies are found,” the Mayo Clinic staff writes.

They go on to write that researchers are working on determining ways to prevent diabetes and “other research focuses on preventing further destruction of the islet cells in people who are newly diagnosed.” But earlier this year, a team of international researchers published findings in the online journal Nature Medicine stating that T1D, previously known as juvenile diabetes, may not be caused by the immune system mistakenly identifying insulin-secreting beta cells as potential danger and destroying them—the prevailing theory of the cause of juvenile diabetes.

Bart Roep, Ph.D , the Chan Soon-Shlong Shapiro Distinguished Chair in Diabetes and professor and founding chair of the Department of Diabetes Immunology at the City of Hope Medical and Research Center, in conjunction with researchers from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, found through experiential work that the stressed beta cells are actually causing the immune response that leads to T1D.
“Our findings show that type 1 diabetes results from a mistake of the beta cell, not a mistake of the immune system,” said Roep told Science Daily. “The immune system does what it is supposed to do, which is respond to distressed or ‘unhappy’ tissue, as it would in infection or cancer.”
The results of the study give Roep new insight, he said, for his work in developing new vaccines to desensitize the immune system so that it will tolerate islets again, as well as for research into combining immunotherapy with more traditional diabetes treatments to reinvigorate islets.

“Our goal is to keep beta cells happy,” Roep said. “So we will work on new forms of therapy to correct the autoimmune response against islets.
In June, at the world’s largest diabetes research conference, sponsored by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), results were unveiled about a trial lead by the doctors at the University of California, San Francisco, testing whether blockbuster cancer drug imatinib (brand name Gleevec) and if it has the potential to slow the progression of T1D in newly diagnosed human adults. The trial thus far (going into its fourth year of testing) “found that the drug slowed the progression of T1D and the loss of the body’s own insulin production, as on average, the people who got the medicine used less insulin and had higher beta cell function,” according to the JDRF website.

Until a cure for juvenile diabetes is found and prevention methods are realized, you can lessen children’s risk by teaching them to control their sugar intake, to eat a healthy diet, to participate in physical activity and to get regular medical check-ups.