Teaching the Body to Accept Insulin-Producing Cells
Reversing diabetes requires a 2-pronged strategy; halt autoimmunity and prevent rejection of transplanted tissue. In both cases, the body must be re-educated to tolerate insulin-producing cells.
DRI clinical trials already show that transplanting islet cells – the cells that produce insulin -- can restore insulin production. But, currently, islet transplant recipients must take powerful immunosuppressive drugs for life. These drugs often cause unwanted side effects, including damage to the islets themselves. They also shut down the patient’s entire immune system, leaving him or her susceptible to other viruses and infections.
The DRI is pursuing several approaches to limit the use of immunosuppressants, to make them less harmful to the recipient, to deliver them only where they’re needed, and to eliminate them altogether.
- Tolerance: Researchers have identified certain cell types that can help educate the immune system to recognize the donor cells as "self," creating a state of immune tolerance to transplanted tissue. At the DRI, scientists are also working to re-educate the immune system and restore self-tolerance to insulin.
- Immune System Cells: Our scientists are studying whether certain types of cells within our own body can, in fact, be used to "teach" our immune system to accept transplanted insulin-producing cells. The research focuses on two types of naturally-occurring cells: Marrow Derived Suppressor Cells and T-Regulatory Cells.
- Nanoparticles: Researchers are investigating ways that microscopic particles, carrying tiny amounts of drugs, can send signals to different parts of the body as part of the process to re-educate the immune system.