JDRF-funded researchers at the La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology in San Diego have become the first researchers to successfully determine which kind of T-cells are responsible for the autoimmune attack on the insulin-producing beta cells in people with type 1 diabetes (T1D). (T-cells are white blood cells that take a central role in the body’s immune system.) The study appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.
Utilizing the resources of JDRF’s Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes (nPOD), Matthias Von Herrath, M.D., and his research team examined pancreatic tissue from organ donors who had T1D. Dr. Von Herrath’s group of scientists discovered the presence of a specific type of T-cell, CD-8, which reacts to beta cells in pancreatic islets. They also determined which areas of the islets were most vulnerable during the autoimmune attack. Dr. Ken Coppieters, one of the study’s co-authors, explains: “Knowing which pieces of the molecules the T cells react against is a crucial prerequisite to design therapies that attempt to restore balance within the immune system.”
nPOD is an innovative JDRF-funded project that is based at the University of Florida, Gainesville that provides donated organs from people with T1D to leading diabetes scientists all over the world for use in their research studies. It provides researchers with a unique opportunity to literally see and better understand the initial steps of T1D and its physiological impact on the pancreas and immune system. According to Dr. Von Herrath, the chance to study human pancreatic tissue was crucial to the study’s success: "The use of this tissue from the nPOD consortium was critical to our ability to prove which T cells are most important in destroying beta cells in humans, which leads to type 1 diabetes, and where these cells are located in the pancreas."
JDRF is equally excited that nPOD provided significant support for Dr. Von Herrath’s research team. JDRF’s Director of the Immune Therapies program, Teodora Staeva, Ph.D., says, “We are certainly pleased that nPOD enabled this study through the supply of human tissue. It is a perfect example of the kind of cutting-edge research that JDRF is proud to support to catalyze major research advances in type 1 diabetes.”
JDRF is hopeful that this discovery will help scientists develop methods of stopping or reversing the autoimmune process, which will be a key component of delivering a T1D cure. Additionally, we look forward to continuing opportunities for nPOD to serve as a resource to T1D research teams around the world.