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.
Curing type 1 diabetes requires a combination of three strategies. The immune system needs to be reset, its actions need to be regulated, and beta cells need to be regenerated. Joslin is tackling this suite of problems with the 3Rs project, a collaboration between three researchers studying the immune system and beta cells.
While his colleagues in the 3R project — Stephan Kissler, Ph.D. and Peng Yi, Ph.D. — are working to regulate the autoimmune system and regenerate the lost beta cells, Dr. Tom Serwold is figuring out how to reset the immune system. This will prevent the autoimmune T cells from being introduced into the system. He’s doing that by mounting a targeted attack against the immune cells that are primed to destroy beta cells, and then replacing them with healthy cells.
Type 1 diabetes is a disease of a broken immune system. Cells meant to protect against infection turn on the body, attacking and destroying insulin-secreting beta cells instead. The only way to clear the disease from the body is to reset the immune system by getting rid of the dysfunctional cells and replacing them with working ones.
One method of immune system reset tested in previous clinical trials involves using chemicals to wipe away the existing immune system, a process similar to chemotherapy. This has delayed the onset of type 1 diabetes for a short duration, but the disease always returns. The toxicity and bodily harm associated with this chemical treatment far outweigh the reprieve.
Dr. Serwold is developing a safer, non-toxic method of reset. He is able to target individual problem cells of the immune system, destroy them, and replace them with healthy ones. He can also zero in on the blood cells that give rise to the dysfunctional immune cells, which prevents them from reemerging. Since this method does not erase the immune system in its entirety, people undergoing treatment avoid the terrible side effects of other immune-depleting approaches.
Paired with the regulation and regeneration efforts of Dr. Kissler and Dr. Yi, resetting the immune system will lead to a permanent cure for type 1 diabetes.
Support Joslin’s research for a cure. Donate at giving.joslin.org/3Rs.