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Using our Bodies' Own Cells to Prevent Immune Attack - Learning from Cancer   

by Diabetes Research Institute on Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 9:53am on T1 Diabetes Cure - Global Headquarters and Diabetes Research Institute Facebook pages.

Happy Thursday!  For our DRI post today, we want to share a bit more about our research aimed at replacing insulin-producing cells without the need for life-long anti-rejection drugs. Last week we spoke about the use of a person’s own T-regulatory cells to reset their immune system and today, we want to describe another approach. Our researchers are taking a page from new findings in cancer and testing how naturally-occurring cells may be used to protect transplanted insulin-producing cells.

So, if the body typically destroys unwanted cells, how is it that some tumor cells avoid immune attack and continue to grow uncontrollably? Scientists are uncovering how this occurs and this mechanism may represent a very powerful tool to prevent rejection of transplanted tissues and organs.

As a brief refresher- we know, our immune system is in charge of protecting us from harmful “germs” and other invaders.  Our bodies learn -- early on -- to distinguish between “self” and “foreign.” “Self” is ignored, “foreign” is attacked and destroyed.  Transplants, just like bacteria and viruses, are seen as foreign, and are rejected by our immune system. The use of continuous anti-rejection drugs in organ and cell transplants (from unrelated donors) have prevented rejection; these harsh drugs must be given continuously and often lead to serious side effects and are actually toxic to islets and other tissues – that’s why Julie, other parents and those with diabetes are so interested in this topic!

While we and others groups have shown that natural insulin production can be restored and the quality of life improved by replacing the healthy islet cells, the use of these immune system suppressants limits the use of this therapy. Together with our collaborators in Italy, DRI scientists are studying a specific type of immune cell that is found in large numbers surrounding tumors. These marrow or “myeloid” derived suppressor cells  (MDSC’s) are attracted to the tumors in response to signals sent from the cancer cells and develop methods to interfere with the immune system’s ability to detect and destroy the “foreign invaders.”

But what if we could use these sneaky cells to protect insulin-producing cells? Islets could function indefinitely because they would not be seen as foreign.  Instead, they’d be accepted as “self” – normalizing blood sugar and reversing diabetes. While our Italian colleagues continue to study MDSCs and develop methods to eliminate them in cancer patients, the DRI team is focused on harnessing their ability to safely suppress the immune system from detecting and attacking the desired insulin-producing cells. 

Here are two links to hear from two of our researchers involved in this work.

>>Learning from Cancer – Part 1

>>Learning from Cancer – Part 2


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