Throughout National Diabetes Month, we will be sharing developments into Joslin’s unique approach for a permanent cure for type 1 diabetes. Our mission is to prevent, treat and cure diabetes so that one day there will be a world free of diabetes and its complications.
While his colleagues in the 3R project — Tom Serwold, Ph.D. and Peng Yi, Ph.D. — are working to reset the autoimmune system and regenerate the lost beta cells, Stephan Kissler, Ph.D., is manipulating immune system genetics to better regulate the functioning of the newly reset immune system, ensuring type 1 diabetes doesn’t reemerge.
In the past 5 years, researchers have uncovered at least 50 genes associated with type 1 diabetes. Dr. Kissler’s lab is among the first to explore them in depth.
All of the genes Dr. Kissler studies play a role in the regulation of the immune system. For example, one gene affects how immune cells learn which cells to recognize as an infection and which cells belong in the body. Depending on the variation of the gene, the immune cells can mistake beta cells for an invader. Another gene monitors how immune cells respond to distress signals from infected tissues. When the gene functions properly, the immune cells clear the infection and leave the tissue. In diabetes, the gene malfunctions and the immune cells never stop attacking the pancreas.
Dr. Kissler is understanding the roles these genes play in the development of disease. Once he knows which variant of the gene is associated with diabetes and which is present in healthy people, he can manipulate the genetic code to regulate the functioning of the immune system and prevent any rogue immune cells from doing harm.
These genes he’s examining also play a role in other autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis or celiac disease. Dr. Kissler hopes that in focusing his research on genes associated with many diseases he’ll tap into something fundamentally important in autoimmunity.
This work, paired with the reset immune system from Dr. Serwold and the regenerated beta cells from Dr. Yi will provide a permanent cure for type 1 diabetes.
Support Joslin’s research for a cure. Donate at giving.joslin.org/3Rs.