Unlocking the Key to Diabetes Treatment
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly sees insulin-producing cells as “foreign.” So, the immune system destroys those cells. Scientists are trying to make the immune system “tolerate” these cells – to see them as “self” and allow them to exist. Within the field of diabetes research, the concept of tolerance takes shape two ways:
- Transplant Tolerance: When insulin-producing cells are transplanted into a patient with type 1 diabetes, the goal is to induce “transplant tolerance” in the recipient. That is, for the recipient to accept the transplanted cells -- without the need to shut down the immune system through immunosuppressant drugs.
- Self Tolerance: In researching self tolerance, scientists are looking for ways to retrain the body’s immune system; to recognize the body’s own insulin-producing cells as “self” and allow them to exist.
Tolerance has already been achieved in small animals by several means, including bone marrow transplantation. It has been shown that the co-existence of donor and recipient bone marrow cells (a state called chimerism), can help the recipient see the new donor islets, or any subsequent transplant from that same donor, as "self."
Researchers are testing other approaches that will safely and effectively promote the co-existence of donor and recipient immune systems.
Recent progress in transplant immunology is changing the way our scientists think about the challenge posed by transplant rejection. We believe that transplanted islets could function indefinitely if the recipient’s immune system could be “taught” to accept the islets as "self."
Leading to a Cure: How this Research Supports our Mission
In cell replacement strategies, achieving transplant “tolerance” will allow permanent survival of a transplant (islets or whole organs) without the need for chronic immunosuppression.