The Basic Challenges of Curing Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s own immune system misguidedly attacks and destroys certain cells in the pancreas, an organ about the size of a hand that is located behind the lower part of the stomach. These cells–called beta cells–are contained, along with other types of cells, within small clusters in the pancreas called islets. Beta cells normally produce insulin, a chemical messenger that helps the body move sugar from food sources into cells throughout the body, which use it for fuel to stay alive. But when the beta cells are destroyed, no insulin can be produced, and sugar stays in the blood instead, where it can cause serious damage to all the organ systems of the body and starves cells of their normal energy source. For this reason, people with type 1 diabetes must routinely inject insulin in order to stay alive.
JDRF CURE Research Goal: Restore and Maintain Normal Pancreas Function
To cure someone diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, two fundamental aspects of the disease need to be corrected. First, we need to find ways to turn off the misguided immune system attack on the insulin-producing beta cells; stopping the autoimmune process, or protect new beta cells from this ongoing attack (encapsulation). Next, we need to find a way to restore the body’s ability to produce its own insulin. Restoring new insulin-producing cells in the body could be achieved in a few different ways – either by making them from other remaining healthy cells in the pancreas (regeneration) or by making them in a lab or obtaining them from other animals and putting them into the body (replacement).