Transplanted cells reveal early signs of type 1 diabetes

By the time type 1 diabetes is diagnosed, most of the insulin-producing beta cells have already been destroyed. Now, using an innovative transplantation technique, researchers at Karolinska Institutet and University of Miami Miller School of Medicine have been able to intervene to save the beta cells in mice by discovering early signs of the disease. The study is published in Diabetologia, the scientific journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD).

Type 1 diabetes is caused when the insulin-producing beta cells in the endocrinal part of the pancreas – the islets of Langerhans – are destroyed by an autoimmune attack. There are currently no drugs to prevent the disease developing.

Understanding the mechanisms that give rise to type 1 diabetes is essential to the development of drugs able to prevent damage to the beta cells. One major hurdle is that the disease is often discovered too late, when the beta cells are already destroyed. Scientists therefore need to find a robust diagnostic method that involves identifying early autoimmune markers.

The present study shows that the islets of Langerhans transplanted to the anterior chamber of the eye can be important reporters of autoimmunity and the development of type 1 diabetes. By studying transplanted islets of Langerhans in a mouse model with type 1 diabetes, the researchers found that the islets showed signs of inflammation long before other indicators of the disease appeared.

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